Talk to me about Kimchi (in terms I will understand)

I’m a Brit with (what I consider to be) fairly broad culinary tastes - and not averse to strong flavours - at the same time, being appreciative that foreign strong flavours are sometimes overwhelmingly difficult for an adult to grow to love.

I’ve tried things that claimed to be ‘Kimchi flavour’ - mostly these were ramen-type noodle pots. In some cases, including a sachet of moist pickled vegetables. None of these were any more offensive to me than, say, Branston pickle, which leads me to suspect that they may be heavily sanitised, westernised approximations, or at least that the process of making them shelf-stable in a flimsy plastic sachet may have destroyed their true nature.

If I look around, there are a number of products available to me in various Asian food supermarkets; comprising shelf-stable cans or jars, but also, jars in the refrigerated section. I suspect the latter of these is going to be the closest to authentic I can buy commercially here in the UK (without either making from scratch or finding someone who does).

Which leads me to the question: what will my likely impression of Kimchi actually be? What will my westernised nose and palate perceive it as?

Ideally, you’ll taste sour, spicy, crunchy vegetables. Apart from the usual kimchi that uses a leafy vegetable (a kind of cabbage, I believe), there are also cucumber and radish (my fav) kimchis. If you can get the radish one, please try it. It won’t be super hot like a chilli pepper, but it will have a slight to medium burning sensation in your mouth.

Kimchi has a smell to it - which may be best described as vinegary (with old socks)? Vinegar is not really a pleasant smell to me, but kimchi is, so there must be a subtle difference in the aromas.

I bet mangetout would make good kimchi.

Being reasonably adventurous with my palate, and having lived in Korea since 2000, I can say that the average person will find the smell too revolting to even get near the stuff. This is the rotten cabbage kimchi, not the radish or apple variety.

I don’t mind it grilled, but their tendency to overdo food with sauces (particuarly hot pepper paste) is annoying.

The few times I’ve had Kimchi it had a “fizzy” feeling on my tongue. I assume it’s a byproduct of the fermentation process?

Is that fizz normal or desirable in Kimchi?

I have eaten homemade kimchi from a Korean friend and it is wonderful stuff. It was his mum’s homemade authentic recipe, fermented and all.

As I recall it was nothing more than hot and spicy cabbage and peppers. If you have any kind of metropolitan taste in foods it should not be in the least bit offensive.

I have made my own cabbage kimchi years ago. I took some to a local Korean restaraunt we ate at and they said it was pretty good.

The refrigerated jars at the local asian market, 50 miles away, is good. That’s what I’d buy if I were you.

It’s basically spicy sauerkraut, with a bunch of other things added to it. Sauerkraut is just salted cabbage leaves that are left to ferment. Kimchi is the same idea, although there’s Korean hot pepper, green onions, garlic, ginger, etc. added to it (sometimes fish, dried shrimp, or oysters; fruit like apple or pear, some daikon radish.) To me, it’s just really sexed-up sauerkraut, at least the Napa cabbage version of kimchi.

This man speaks the truth. I lived in Korea for 2 weeks this summer and I could barely eat bimbimbap because of the shitty pepper paste. Kimchi wasn’t the worst thing ever, but it wasn’t amazing and I can honestly say I’ve never craved the stuff. The Koreans thought I found it too spicy which is NOT true in the least, but I couldn’t break it to them that I just didn’t like it. Period.

That said, its worth the try. Have fun.

Some Kimchi is extremely spicey. I should say that the “standard” version of kimchi is extremely spicey by western standards. (Mild kimchis exist but when made from napa cabbage, I think it’s a bit westernized). I’ve seen recipes that are not considered unusually spicy, that call for a CUP of chili powder to a head of cabbage.

I would wager your first impression will be – “hm, kinda like saurkraut, only HOLYFUCK ITS SPICY”

Personally I’ve never eaten Kimchi that smells foul, it has a strong fermented smell but it’s not inherently revolting and (compare with, durian, which smells disgusting). As far as I can tell, the only people who object to the smell of kimchi are people who just don’t like strong smells in their food (and object equally to fish smells, onion smells, etc).

It just means the kimchi is a bit old. Some people like it that way.

True. But if you’re used to medium spicy & up Thai or Indian food, or even jalapeno peppers, kimchi should not be a problem for you. Korean chile flakes aren’t really all that hot. Of course, it’s all relative, but that’s one of the reason I like Korean chile flakes–they have a distinctive flavor with a hint of heat that is not overbearing. I’ve tried to make kimchi with other kinds of pepper flakes, some hotter ones (like dried Thai chiles) or just different ones (like Italian red pepper flakes), and none of those taste right.

Yes, the pepper paste is akin to garlic–too much and that’s all you taste.

And Koreans tend to believe that it’s spicy. If you enjoy random Thai and Indian cuisine, you’ll find it pretty boring, to be frank. Most Korean food is.

I spent over 3 years in Korea and I could never stand anything but the Americanized version of the stuff.

I agree. It’s not more spicy than spicy Indian dishes or spicy Thai dishes. Just, as you say, different/unfamiliar.

PS I like the “fizzy” mouthfeel, when I can get it.

I’m not a big kimchi fan; the comparison to spicy sauerkraut is a good one, and I don’t care for sauerkraut.

On the other hand, I like the radish and cucumber versions as suggested by Isamu.

Check what ingredients are used in making it before eating. I used to eat kimchi at a local restaurant and enjoyed it. However, it changed ownership recently. I don’t know where the previous owner was from, as he served mild and spicy only, but the new one uses seafood, particularly octopus. Unfortunately, I’m allergic to it, but I noticed the off taste just as I began to eat. Sadly, there are no other places that serve kimchi nearby.

Thanks folks - it sounds like I ought to try it - spicy doesn’t frighten me too much (I don’t go for ‘this will only hurt’ type sauces, but I’m not averse to eating things with no shortage of hot peppers in them). I guess it’s the reports of it smelling ‘rotten’ that are giving me pause, but maybe these are just from people who would describe western chutneys in the same way.

Oh hell yeahs. Now I want some!

Dammit, I’m drooling…yes, true kimchi smells, but it goes down good with a nice korean Beer or some SOJU!

Hope you’re sleeping alone. If not, you will be…