The Kimchee Chronicles

These past few days my dad and I have had a steady ongoing conversation, something that doesn’t happen that often. After years where he tried to interest me in science, politics, stamp collecting and the like, we finally found the one thing we’re both passionate about: Kimchee.

The beginning is rather vague to me, although I definitely remember my nutritionist recommending Kimchee as a way to boost my stomach health. That was fine with me, since the taste and the overpowering scent of Kimchee is something I fell in love with (and my Dad too) back in South Korea, not during the war, in which he happily didn’t participate, but in 1971, when he was building the Brenda Lynn.

I know I’m confusing you, because Brenda Lynn is my mother’s name, though most know her simply as Brenda. But the boat was named after my mom, apparently to keep her from abandoning ship, something she may have considered more than once, after being cooped up with us lot for four years.

From time to time, I’ve bought kimchee. The preserved version in a colorful shiny sachet tastes quite good, but strangely, it’s not consistently good. The one sold at the local Korean mini market is delicious but wildly overpriced. Besides, the goodies in that store are far too tempting, so I don’t go there very often.

So when the winter break started, I found myself browsing the internet for Kimchee recipes. Turns out, with the right ingredients, (namely the right Korean Chilli Pepper), it’s pretty easy to make!

On Christmas day, I sent a picture of my Kimchee to my mom (and my new socks.)

An hour later she responded, “Looks yummy Audrey” “And Christmas socks?????”

My Mom lives in Israel, where I also grew up, but she was born and raised in the USA. So, Christmas being celebrated on December 25th is not a foreign concept to her, even though we are Jewish.

Therefore, I couldn’t understand why there were 5 question marks behind her question about the socks. Maybe the image wasn’t clear? Maybe she didn’t think I’d stoop so low?

Looking back, I think that a reasonable person might have just asked her this question, but Whatsapp being what it is – an imperfect method of communication, I simply replied, “Yes!” to the Christmas socks question.

The next day, early in the morning, my mom sent me this Whatsapp message:

“Busy busy
Abba [dad] is making kimchee
What kind of pepper do you use for kimchee?
Your once a year socks?
Red pepper and green pepper

To simplify matters, I sent her: Korean chilli pepper, and a link to the recipe I used, (In case you got distracted or forgot to click the link last time).

On Sunday, December 27th , Mom and I worked out via Zoom, and my dad took over the kimchee discussion via email because as he puts it, ‘Whatsapp is not a real method of communication.’

My dad has been trying very hard, since Corona hit, back in March, to convince me to buy food online, a practice which is not yet so common in the Netherlands. Or maybe it’s just me, being rather disorganized and unable to decide what I want to cook in advance for a whole week. So, with this in mind, I conducted a short search online but couldn’t find what I was looking for at a reasonable price. The shipping alone (from a store 10 minutes away) would cost more than the chili pepper. And then the plan was for me to send it to Israel, where it may or may not be stopped by the customs, and it may or may not arrive, and if so – seeing as we are still in our holiday postal rush period – who knows when Dad would get his pepper?

Finally I decided I’d go to the Korean mini market the next day (Dec. 29th), but I got distracted when my friend Samira sent me a message asking if we could go for a walk. During the walk, my phone kept vibrating, each time with a new message from my dad. He thought he’d found the right paste, but I had to answer his quickly, while walking, to make sure he didn’t get the wrong stuff. Of course, he could have known as well that Red Curry paste is for Thai food, since he’s a great chef, himself. Still, we can overlook things in our hasty internet shopping sprees, so I sent him this:

Not Red Curry!

Had to stop Dad from buying the wrong paste!!

As we walked, my phone kept pinging and in the next couple of emails, Dad told me he’d found the chili powder on Amazon (USA) and planned to ship it to me for repackaging as ‘Amazon will not ship any food items to Israel.’

“Why won’t they ship food to Israel?” Samira asked, as we paced briskly in the freezing cold, avoiding puddles, bikers and the many maskless people passing by us. I glanced at my watch to check my step count, thinking about her question.

“4235 steps so far, Samira, where are you taking me?”
“I’m taking you?” she replied. “I’m following you!”
“Oops, just so you know, I’m following you!. About the shipping – I don’t know?!” I replied. “Maybe Israel already has too much food?”

Samira’s parents immigrated from Morocco and we often laugh about the different food culture we have here in the Netherlands. The Dutch supermarkets offer almost ALL the fruit and vegetables, season or not, imported from Peru, the Caribbean, South Africa, but in Morocco as in Israel, you eat what’s in season, and you cook and eat in abundance. Here, it’s all available, but so many people often eat small portions of food and stick to a potato-based Dutch menu, or if they are very adventurous, they will make Indonesian food.

We couldn’t think of the justification of Amazon’s shipping rule, especially given the sad fact that my dad had not yet been able to find any Korean chili pepper locally. Maybe it’s missing a Kosher stamp, I thought.

Yesterday, almost at midnight, my dad sent me one last message :

So, I guess in a few days, or weeks or however long it takes, I’ll get a picture of my dad’s kimchee.

And I know it will be as delicious as mine is; for sure it will taste better, after all this effort!

PS. In the meantime, I’ve started googling, in Hebrew, to find out where to buy Chinese cabbage… while wondering if he could replace it with regular cabbage, or any other vegetable of choice?

PPS. Good news! Minutes later, I found a farmer in Israel who sells Chinese cabbage. Indeed it’s not available this week, but they’ve assured me they should have it next week! Thanks, Tari-Tari… (fresh, fresh!)

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