Elwood 5566

Killing Kimchi and Murdering Makgeolli!

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, Food and Drink, rice wine (beer), vodcast by 노강호 on March 10, 2012

I’ve recently posted my new video on how to make makgeolli, but before that…

One of my Korean friends recently questioned the point of making makgeolli when it is so much easier to buy! Where do you begin? I love randomness! I hate straight cucumbers, regimented onions and all vegetables that have been forced to conform. Back in Europe, the big supermarkets, citadels of conformity, reject fruit and vegetables that aren’t a specific size and shape and I can remember a few years ago when it was a common sight to see piles of onions on the edge of a field that farmers couldn’t sell and to which you could help yourself. If I recall, it was a kind protest by farmers against the big buyers. One of the vegetables I hate buying in Korea is the courgette-like vegetable which you only seem able to buy encased in a plastic straight-jacket. Trapped inside its constraint, every vegetable grows to exactly the same dimensions and no more. What ‘ fascist farmers’ forum’ decide on the specific dimensions of a courgette?

bent and wonky – banned by the big supermarkets

Market forces have already started killing kimchi and makgeolli. Fermentation processes, in which the development of something continues post the point of production, hinder the standardization that supermarkets encourage. It might seem an irrelevant point now, but I know several Korean women who can’t make kimchi and instead rely on their mothers for a regular supply. As for Korean men, most just about have the culinary skills to add water to  a pot of ramyon (noodles) or make a cup of coffee – with mix. Sorry guys! . When the older generation of kimchi makers have died out, I would imagine a lot of women will turn to supermarkets for their fix of kimchi and from that point the gradually numbing of taste buds will lead to shit, factory made kimchi becoming the bench mark.

MacDonald’s have done exactly the same with the noble burger. If you’ve ever had a real American burger, ‘loaded,’ you’ll know how superior they are. In the USA, I’d say most people have no idea what real chocolate tastes like after years of rape by crap like Hershey’s. British people aren’t more discerning. I once gave a class of 17-year-old British kids decent chocolate (Lindt 70% milk, Excellence) and the most common and mediocre of British chocolate (Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, around 26% chocolate), which is substantially better quality the Hershey’s ersatz chocolate. They didn’t know which was which but they mostly voted the inferior chocolate the best.  And British people are beginning to forget what real pork and bacon is like after years of abuse by pork that is pumped full of water and bacon that is similarly sodden with water and then ‘smoked’ by chemicals. Most British pork and bacon you can no longer fry as it ends up swimming in so much water they are effectively braised. Impregnation with water is what is probably going to happen with pork in Korea, which will rain torrents on samy-kyeop-sal (Korean pork barbecue) and kimchi and mekgeolli, in the hands of factory processes and supermarkets, will probably end up being similarly adulterated.

Take kimchi for example, the taste changes over anything up to several years and ‘maturation’ is greatly affected by temperature. Fermentation introduces random elements into food production that factory systems don’t like and it is safer for the image of brands to have products that are always mediocre, and hence reliable in their mediocrity, than ones where random elements occasionally deal both superb and inferior products. Most of our factory food, whether it be fast food burgers to almost anything in a supermarket, has been reduced to mediocrity. I remember when Indian restaurants in Britain all differed from each other. Not only was chicken served ‘on’ or ‘off the bone,’ choices you are never given today, but every restaurant cooked differently because the companies that were to supply all the ‘cook in sauces,’ standardise them and dominant the industry, had not yet been developed. Restaurants depended on the skills and creative talents of their chefs and eating out in an Indian was a culinary experience. I’ve even eaten curry garnished with melted silver leaf (varq) but again, you no longer see this creative addition. Standardization has killed the curry to the point crap factory products become the bench mark and preferred taste and in the process the chef is deskilled and becomes a ‘cook.’  Now, you can eat a korma in Newcastle or Cornwall and it will taste and look exactly the same – usually sickly yellow, sweet, and populated by uniform cubes of tasteless chicken.  Yes, it’s cooked in a restaurant but the components are produced by mass factory processes. Even the pickles are now mass-produced.

It was the variation and randomness of British Indian restaurants that made them so exciting and  it is currently the same variation that enlivens the experience of kimchi and makgeolli. Like most of the makgeolli type drinks you can now buy, and most of the packaged kimchi, the fermentation process has been terminated. Ten years ago, all makgeolli bottles had a hole on the top to allow the fermentation process to continue and so was packeted kimchi. Today, they are treated to kill the  micro-organisms which so miraculously collaborate to transform a pile of boring cabbage into kimchi and rice into makgeolli. You don’t really appreciate the explosive potential of makgeolli until you’ve brewed it and believe me, it can pack a punch far more powerful than champagne.

The allure of making your own makgeolli and kimchi, lies in the fascinating interplay, a kaleidoscope  of activity, that is produced when enzymes and environment collide and every production is a little different – and the difference continues to develop. And they are so very much alive; both kimchi and real makgeolli have a ‘zing’ that is absent when bottled or packeted. No matter how good a commercial makgeolli or kimchi is there is something they lack and quite simply, it is life. Homemade kimchi and makgeolli are full of ‘zeng’ (ie – ‘saeng,’ 생 -生), which is the Hanja (Character) for ‘life’ or ‘living.’ The moment you taste real kimchi or real makgeolli you taste life, it has a quality that with clinically dead food is only ever an approximation. Bottled makgeolli, boiled to death, is artificially resuscitated and put on a carbonated life support but despite the bubbles and facade of life, it is a zombie in comparison to makgeolli that has been allowed to retain its miraculous micro-organic population.

If you want kimchi that is always ever just, ‘just’ (그냥), well, the Chinese are making it in abundance. In my local Chinese store in the UK you can buy Kimchi made in the PRC that has not only been killed prior to packaging, but suitably embalmed in liquid chemical environment hostile to any micro-organic activity and then entombed in a can! And believe me, it tastes as bad as it sounds.

Kimchi and makgeolli are incredibly easy to make and doing so is fun. Homemade kimchi is much cheaper than the packet, supermarket variety and you can make around 8 liters of makgeolli from about 1.3 kilograms of rice (costing about 6000W – £6) which compared with shop bought makgeolli, is about half price. But more to the point, it is more about preserving taste and culture, than cost!

For more information on making makgeolli, visit Mister Makgeolli , and for information on making kimchi, visit: Kimchi Gone Fusion.

 Bathhouse Ballads chronicles many aspects of my life in South Korea. Kimchi Gone Fusion focuses on ‘the way of the pickled cabbage’ while Mister Makgeolli is dedicated to Korean rice wine.

Creative Commons License

©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.
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7 Responses

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  1. Sonja Freeman said, on March 11, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    Hi there! I’ve enjoyed my fair share of freshly homemade kimchi, and I’m definitely going to try makgeolli soon! Thanks for the fun posts, and the continued link to my site 🙂

  2. thesupplanter said, on March 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    I survived on homemade kimchi donated by my concerned co-teachers (those terrible Koreans you read so much about) for my 3 years there. I didn’t get to taste ‘real’ makgeoli until I visited Jeonju. Funnily enough, I can’t remember much about that particular episode.

    Can I request that you desist from writing about Korean food, alcohol and bathing, please? It’s making me homesick.

    • 努江虎-노강호 said, on March 20, 2012 at 10:40 pm

      Perhaps you should try making kimchi and makgeolli, both are quite simple and great fun. What’s the food like? Are you around Canton? I spent a week there and the food was excellent. I do miss a decent take-away!

  3. Fermented Foods said, on April 17, 2012 at 2:11 am

    “Like most of the makgeolli type drinks you can now buy, and most of the packaged kimchi, the fermentation process has been terminated.”

    What’s wrong with their fermentation process? Why did they terminated the process? is there something wrong?

    • 努江虎-노강호 said, on April 17, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      fermented foods are often treated to kill off further fermentation. Makgeolli, for example, is pasteurized. There is a a big difference in taste between foods still fermenting and those same foods which have been ‘terminated.’ Fermenting foods are unpredictable and temperature plays a big part in either activating or slowing down enzymatic activity.

  4. shearstearsandrice said, on June 14, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    Reblogged this on Mistress QueenOfHearts Fetish Lifestyle and commented:
    Making Makgeolli tonight, Read this, loved it. She doesnt tell how to do it but man does she ever have great opinions!


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