Two very true Korean food stories



There are two good articles on Korean food out this month, very different and yet both true.

Saveur‘s article on “The Art of Kimchi” is rich.  The author, Mei Chin, has definitely done her research, and you get a sense of how much is expressed in the word “kimchi” — the range of ingredients possible, the diversity of flavors, the importance of its place on the Korean table.  She describes watching her friend’s mother doing kimjang, the massive kimchi-making that happens every November for the winter supply.  When she tastes the kimchi that’s been prepared but not yet fermented, she says, “It tasted bright and cold and complicated.  In fact, it tasted a little like autumn itself, that final burst of color and vitality before hibernation.”  Buy the magazine, it’s worth it.

Barbara Demick in the New Yorker is writing less about Korean food than the lack of it, as she describes the life of Song Hee-Suk, a North Korean refugee now living in South Korea, and how she tried and failed to keep her family fed during the famines.  Only the abstract is available online, so you should buy this magazine as well, but there is a good slideshow narrated by the author online.

The story’s written sparely, which makes it all the more heartbreaking: “Once, while visiting a relative for lunch, Mrs. Song was served a porridge made of bean stalks and corncobs.  As hungry as she was, she couldn’t swallow it.  The bitter, dry stalks stuck in her throat like the twigs of a bird’s nest.”

As I work on this cookbook celebrating Korean food, I don’t ever want to forget that the story of Korean food also includes this, the country’s division and hunger.


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