We went to a fairly big grocery store in Yongsan yesterday, since our local grocery shop was still closed for the Chuseok long weekend.
I love wandering around grocery stores in foreign countries. I even love exploring new-to-me chains in America when traveling or when new stores open near us. (All of which is weird, because I don’t love actually grocery shopping at all.) So wandering around a big grocery store (described by Uncle Sam as being like “a big grocery store AND a Target”) was delightful.
But the most exciting thing?
The amazing array of kimchi available.
This is just ONE row of kimchi – there were more!
For those of you who don’t know about kimchi (I probably didn’t until I started dating Don – he makes a wonderful kimchi stew that I ask request at least once a week, more so when I was pregnant), kimchi is a fermented vegetable side dish, most typically cabbage but as I’ve learned, can be pretty much any kind (I’ve heard there are over 500 varieties of kimchi?!) and frequently featuring spicy red pepper. Some form of kimchi is typically served at every meal in Korea, apparently.
Even in Indian and Italian restaurants we’ve been to in Seoul, some side of pickled/fermented vegetables is served.
Here are a few examples of the many varieties:
This kimchi is made with turnip greens (from Korean turnips, which are different from American-style ones). I’d never even heard of this kind of kimchi until our first night in Seoul, when Aunt Hye Sook served some, and it has quickly become one of my favorites.
I’ve now had the one on the right (Chonggak) a few times, and it is SPICY. Like, even-for-kimchi spicy. The one on the left is Baek kimchi.
Kid’s Kimchi! This is one is white, mild, and very yummy.
This is apparently really old kimchi – fermented for over a year, sometimes. This particular kind is then wrapped around pork, but there are some that are just the kimchi (labeled in English as something like, “Really Old Kimchi.”)
Travel size kimchi! Little packets you can take wherever you go. This kind is “stir-fried kimchi,” which is pretty descriptive: stir fried in soy sauce, apparently. We might have picked up a bag of this and the Yeolmu kimchi to take back to Japan with us, since the kimchi there is not at all close.
And then of course, there is the fresh kimchi counter, as well! I got to try some samples and they were all amazing. As expected.
Some fun facts I’ve learned about kimchi: though the tradition of fermenting foods in Korea is thousands of years old (a necessity for preserving food through the winter before refrigeration), the red pepper associated so closely with it now was only introduced in the 13th century. And its original use was not for food – but as a weapon!
(Apparently, kimchi was traditionally a food of farmers and common people – royalty in Korea never ate it. I wonder if that is connected with the weapons thing?)
Last year, with the help of the fabulous Virginia Marum of Vert Foods, I got really into making fermented foods, like sourdough bread, old-fashioned, truly fermented ginger soda (I never got good at that, I might need a refresher! No pun intended) and sauerkraut, but I’ve never actually made proper kimchi. We just buy it from the one Asian market in our little town.
Now, even at its basic fermented cabbage and red pepper, I know kimchi is not strictly vegetarian. But I got hooked on it before I learned that, so I’ve asked Don to NEVER translate the ingredients. So, dear reader, if you know what makes it not-vegetarian, I beg you respectfully: please keep that to yourself!
This is unrelated, but I don’t know where else to note this, and it is totally note-worthy to me, so I’m throwing it in while on the topic of food: we went out for Italian food one night while here, and my gorgonzola pizza came with a side of honey. I didn’t realize that was for the pizza until Cousin Sukhoon explained it was for me to dip my pizza in. And thank goodness he did.
Gorgonzola pizza dipped in honey is DIVINE. Is this a thing everywhere and I just didn’t know it?! If it’s not: try it!
And while I’m on the topic of pizza: I was hoping kimchi pizza would be a thing (I love the crazy pizza toppings in Japan, and we’ve seen some unusual toppings here, but none too crazy), but it’s not. So maybe when I’m back stateside I’ll have to make a kimchi pizza on sourdough crust. And maybe burritos with the Yeolmu kimchi….