The korean national dish is made of fermented cabbage, pepper, garlic and onions.
The first time you taste kimchi you’ll be bewildered. Is this it, really, the main dish of Korean cuisine? The second time you eat it, you won’t be able to help noticing the dish’s similarity with sauerkraut – the two are not-so-distant cousins, in fact. And then, the third time you eat kimchi, you’ll notice its spiciness, which sometimes can exceed even that of a hot, peppery Mexican dish.
It’ll take you four or five times to begin to eat it with a certain ease, just like a native Korean. You can hardly go anywhere in Korea without running into kimchi: while it’s not an ingredient per se, it’s omnipresent on virtually every table and in every kitchen, and is widely considered to be the archetypal dish of national cuisine.
Basically, the dish is made from fermented cabbage which is prepared in the same way as kraut, with the main difference being the type of cabbage used. Chili pepper and garlic or onions are then added, which adds its distinctive kick and flavour. Kimchi can also be prepared with horseradish or some kinds of cucumbers, and its exact taste can vary from region to region: it’s usually less spicy in the north and coastal areas will often add fish during the fermentation process.
It’s not unusual to find kimchi as an ingredient in other dishes as well – a filling for dumplings or omelettes, included in soups or even atop fried rice. While it gets diluted in these other dishes its taste becomes less salty and spicy, and it almost entirely loses is pervasive odour. There’s not a single Korean restaurant that doesn’t serve it, and even initially sceptical tourists actually find themselves missing kimchi once back home. There’s also a kimchi museum in Seoul. Full of everything you could ever want to know about kimchi, minus the smell.