What I learned about life from making kimchi

As my birthday approaches this month, I start to reflect back on my life and accomplishments. And by that, I mean I start to freak out and get depressed and eat like an entire family-sized bag of Tim’s Cascade jalapeno-flavored potato chips, followed by eight Tums. Birthdays are pretty brutal; they force us to reflect on ourselves and our worth, and that’s never a good thing.

This year, however, I discovered the joys of making kimchi! Yes, kimchi, that traditional Korean condiment made with vegetables, usually nappa cabbage, garlic, ginger, Korean red peppers, green onions, all fermented until it tastes sour and smells like spicy marinated gym socks, but in a good way. Vegan kimchi’s are hard to come by, since they’re usually made with fish, tiny shrimp, oyster, or other animal ingredients, so I thought I would make my own. Through these past couple of months of experimenting, I have learned several valuable lessons about life and happiness, which I will now share with you, because they are profound.

First, kimchi is a combination of different elements. The balance of all these different ingredients differentiates a good kimchi from a horrid one. A good one must be balanced between salty, spicy, sour, bitter, sweet, and umami, or “savory.” In my first batch, I used way too much garlic and ginger, producing a vile and slightly toxic concoction that would have brought tears to my eyes if the Lasik surgery I got in Vietnam hadn’t damaged my tear ducts. Lesson about life: hipsters are ridiculous, and I hate them.

Second, one of these ingredients, Korean red pepper is essential. You can use cayenne or sriracha or jalapeno or whatever, but the taste will be different. For weeks, I went around local Asian markets searching for this elusive red pepper, having no luck. So I took a shortcut and made my kimchi with cayenne pepper flakes, and it was not good. Lesson about life: Millennials totally get on my nerves with their whininess and constant narcissism.

Third, kimchi takes time to ferment. A young kimchi tastes different than one that has been allowed time to age, to develop its flavors. The perfectly aged kimchi will taste better and more complex and will complement foods better and also be better for you. Lesson about life: What’s with those stupid songs with the breathy women singing songs with whimsical lyrics that are used in commercials these days? I’m sick of breathy women singing songs with whimsical lyrics. I hate whimsical lyrics!

Fourth, kimchi is good for you, full of great bacteria that help in digestion and so on. Each bite of fermented cabbage is full of millions or billions of living, writhing, squirming bacteria that will improve your health. We take them for granted, because we can’t see them, but they are there. Lesson about life: Morning people! With their yoga and green smoothies and perkiness, could they be any more irritating?

Fifth, kimchi complements other foods. Kimchi is rarely eaten by itself. Though it is bold, it is also understated and humble and plays a supporting role, helping to enhance and uplift other dishes. This role does not diminish it, but rather lifts the kimchi up as well. Lesson about life: Gerber commercials with those babies having adult hands doing magic or something. That is so creepy and disturbing! Babies are cute because they’re clumsy and helpless. They can’t do magic or juggle! It’s sick, sick!

For my birthday, I’ll eat my kimchi and reflect on my life and what I have accomplished and what is in store. And as I savor each morsel of fermented cabbage, I’ll be thinking—Those dancing KIA hamsters are truly insipid and annoying. If I could, I would kick each of them in the face while they’re dancing to that stupid song.

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13 Responses to What I learned about life from making kimchi

  1. rachel says:

    Kimchi tastes like gym socks.

  2. Paul says:

    With all those bacteria, is it really vegan? Don’t you feel guilty cutting their lives short by eating them?

    • Huy Le says:

      Well, I didn’t until your comment. But meh, it’s bacteria. They’re everywhere, and some of them even thrive in your gut. We’re doing them a favor.

  3. The Obnoxious Republican says:

    Seriously!?! Actually, kim-chi is awesome as a main dish with white rice in a supporting role. Try it! I do recommend that you actually go to a Korean market and buy authentic kim-chi, as I am sure that yours is not buried in the ground and allowed to ferment for the needed period of time. I am sending you a link to a website that has a recipe for vegan kim-chi: http://drbenkim.com/how-make-kim-chi.htm. I will email it to you as well.

    Expanding on Paul’s comment…you should feel guilty about murdering the poor little defenseless bacteria and I am not sure that you can continue to call your truly vegan. However, I am sure you’re not and you will!

    Finally, I do suggest that if you want to improve the taste of your kim-chi, that you stop being so cheap and using your high school gym socks instead of a clay pot to ferment it.

    • Huy Le says:

      My kimchi is actually pretty good now. Thanks for the link, though. Who knew it was so ridiculously healthy for you. Next up, I’m making watermelon rind kimchi.

  4. rachel says:

    It might be an acquired taste! I don’t like it even when actual Korean mothers have made it for me (although I pretended that I did!)

    • Huy Le says:

      Rachel, look, even the Obnoxious Republican likes kimchi. And she hates everything. So I think it’s just you who have an undeveloped palate.

  5. Andy says:

    Huy, this is your idea of a birthday treat?! Jeez! Are you sure it’s not some form of penance, community service? Your description of the smell reminds me of the smell of kapusta, the pickled cabbage that’s kept in huge barrels in supermarkets in Poland. It’s probably the worst smell in the world and was even rejected by the South African police as an unfair method of torture.

  6. Vu Bunnie 2.0 says:

    Save some for your guests when they come over to your place…
    We’ll be the judge :-)

  7. jorgebob28 says:

    You’ve got to use the right kind of chili flakes. Most of what’s on the market and available in Korean groceries is actually from China and runs around $12.00 a pound. Korean chili is about double that price but is vastly superior if you’re making a quality batch. Normally, I use the better grade of Chinese chili flakes for everyday stuff and save the Korean stuff for special occasion kimchi.

    It’s amazing that essentially the same pepper, grown in a different place, can vary so much. It’s not just the heat, which seems actually less in the Korean variety, but it has a deeper flavor.

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