Kimjang is a longtime kimchi-making tradition taking place in the second half of November, when the temperature is low enough for kimchi to mature well. Korean families get together on the weekend and prepare large quantities of kimchi, enough to last even until next kimjang.
This year I got invited by my friend to go to countryside and take part in the kimjang ritual. I absolutely love experiencing Korean culture, so there was no possibility for me to say no to that!
We departured from Seoul very late on Friday evening, and arrived in Dangjin in South Chungcheong Province short after midnight. My friend warned me that her aunt lives in an old house, but still I was surprised when we were driving through narrow dirt roads with just farms on both sides and no street lights. When we reached our destination, I was sure it’s going to be an amazing weekend. Just like in a movie.
Three hundred of cabbage heads were already salted, waiting for the early morning to be washed and cut. Children were already asleep, so we only grabbed a few slices of ttoek, a few mandarins and headed to a different house since there was not enough space for us to sleep with everyone else.
Next morning we were late. At 9:00am all the cabbage was ready for seasoning. However, the need of us having breakfast delayed the process. Typical breakfast on kimjang weekend is steamed pork (bossam) and different types of kimchi. It was simply delicious!
And then it started… I got an ajumma style clothes to put on what I was wearing, and when I came back to kitchen, I saw a swimming pool-size bowl in the center. Every family has different recipe for kimchi. Ours included sticky rice cooked in a traditional pot fireplace, huge amount of garlic, shrimps and a big bottle of soju. Yes, a big bottle of soju…
We started mixing the ingredients and less than 10 minutes later we were ready for the real fun to begin. Making kimchi is a bonding experience. A lot of talking, and talking, AND talking. However, for me, as for a special guest, after maybe 2 hours the sightseeing began. We took down some fruits from the trees, checked on cows and dogs, and played with kids. We also visited a local store to buy some makkoli for dinner, and spent some time at the lake. We finished our trip in traditional market, and after having mandu, hotteok and hoppang, went back home to find the kimchi done.
Next morning was nothing else than dividing kimchi and other foods between five families while watching Korean tv shows. A way back to Seoul was much longer because of the traffic. However, it seems like the traffic jam disappeared after – what Koreans called it – a cafeteria.
I consider kimjang not only as a major annual event, but mostly as an incredibly amazing experience. It’s my another step taken to understand Korean culture deeper at its best. If you ever get a chance to join this kind of activity, don’t even hesitate. You will end up being extremely tired but happy. AND nothing tastes better than kimchi made by yourself!