On Monday night I made kimchi. Making kimchi is an excellent way to destress. You know work emails, right, the bane of modern life which fractures your attention span into multitudes of thanks and kind regards punctuated by sincere apologies? Some nights I drift to sleep drafting them in my head. Most days I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of to-do lists and tasks and expectations for myself – for work, for personal life, creativity, social media, everything that comes along with trying to figure out how everyone else adults.
Kimchi-making is the antithesis of all this. For around two, two and a half hours, you have to be present and not thinking about emails. Your mind has to be holding your knife along with your hands, and you need music to begin. Slice, salt and soak your cabbage. Plunge your hands into the cold water every now and then to turn, making sure it salts evenly. Make your rice flour slurry so it has time to cool, and don’t worry if there are a few lumps at the end. It’ll be fine. Julienne your carrot and radish, chop your scallions or negi. A large blender makes quick work of the fish sauce, garlic, onions, ginger. Add a handful of raw oysters while you’re at it. And so on. My favourite part is slipping on a pair of rubber gloves, and massaging the red pepper sludge into the cabbage, till it’s evenly coated and your bowl looks like an open-heart surgery gone wrong. Gloriously, deliciously wrong.
The first time I made kimchi a few years back in university was using Momofuku’s recipe, which is heavier on the ginger and sugar. It’s a little too heavy on both for my liking – garlic over ginger any day. I might also add that I was a total kimchi rookie and was convinced that the amount of salt called for was not enough. I made the recipe three times, doubling the salt each time. Each time it turned out too, too salty, like, gasp-out-loud salty and still I persisted. But no more! Now I have made it this way, soaking it in lightly salted water. I have now made kimchi with the rice flour porridge base and with an extra squirt of fish sauce and water, which smeared beautifully on the leaves. Unlike the long-term trajectory of my life, with kimchi I know which way I’m going from here on out.
Freshly made kimchi is pleasantly aggressive: the cabbage, which has had just 1.5 hours to lightly brine, is still crunchy. The onions and garlic haven’t had time to mellow and so they’re right there with a kick to your teeth, followed by the oysters and fish sauce in quick succession. Maybe, too, it’s partly that the fish sauce is a somewhat inferior and harsh Thai variety. But just two days in the flavour is mellowing noticeably, these flavours still spicy and fishy but melding together a little more. Kimchi fried rice! Kimchi jjigae! Kimchi by the saucerful for teatime! I can’t wait to taste this again in 2 weeks.