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World Languages and Cultures

Culture, Kinship and Kimchi

Exploring the significance and flavor of a Korean diet staple during lecture, hands-on workshop

Posted in: Korean, World Languages and Cultures

Woman pours spices into a dish while others look on
Korean Professor Yun Kim demonstrates how to make kimchi to students, faculty and staff at the workshop.

Generations of Koreans have grown up learning to make kimchi, says Montclair Nutrition and Food Studies Chair Yeon Bai, while delivering a guest lecture, “Kimchi: It’s Role in Korean Culture.” Bai shared the history and cultural significance of the Korean diet stable, which was followed by a tasting and hands-on workshop where students and staff were provided the vegetables and other ingredients to make the traditional salted and fermented food. A multicultural group of kimchi fans chopped, seasoned and massaged the vegetable mixture while listening to K-pop music.

Bai shared that while some ingredients and the spice level may differ by region, kimchi is regularly served as a side to other dishes. The fermentation process is key and must be done just right, she says, which is why it’s taught generation to generation. Bai says she has fond memories of learning to make kimchi alongside her mother. She and participants also discussed the use of cabbage and fermentation by other cultures, such as German sauerkraut. The kimchi workshop is more formally known as kimjang – the making and sharing of kimchi, which has been recognized by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage Item of Humanity.”

The lecture and hands-on workshop were sponsored by the Korean program of the World Languages and Cultures Department, the Food and Nutrition Studies Department, and the Korean Education Center of New York.

Young child pours liquid onto a plate of spices
Making kimchi is a fun intergenerational activity.
A student wearing plastic gloves rubs spices into cabbage
A hands-on experience.
several pairs of hands wearing gloves rub spices onto green onions in an aluminum pan
Massaging seasonings into green onions.
Students seated at tables women unwrap ingredients to prepare to make kimchi.
Preparing to make kimchi.
close view of student wearing gloves, rubbing spice on cabbage leaves
Rubbing seasoning onto each cabbage leaf.
Baskets of cabbage and root vegetables and jars of Kimchi sit on a red table cloth
Kimchi ingredients before (on baskets) and after (in jars).
Woman wearing hijab focuses on making Kimchi
Making kimchi requires focus.
"Helpers show participants how to make kimchi"
Learning the art of kimchi making.
"Participant holds up a bowl of Kimchi"
The finished product. Doesn’t it look yummy?
Two participants dish out ingredients for Kimchi
Selecting the right ingredients is serious business.
Man serves himself some Kimchi
Now for the best part, the taste-testing.