Unforgettable Seoul '10 Day 10 Part 1 - Korean Hospitality, Of Green Chili Peppers, Kimchi and Fruits in Seoul

October 31, 2009 (Saturday) Part I

They say that good things come when you least expect it. I never thought the rain would pour on my last full day in Seoul. All our last minute future plans to see Seoul for the last time were cancelled. Besides, it was super cold anyway to go out.

Emily came and invited me to meet her relatives who were conveniently home on the rooftop from where I was staying. On my last day in Korea, I was welcomed into a Korean home and they were making kimchi!

how they eat grapes

I was ushered into a veranda. There were green chili peppers all over the place, a whole mattress full of them and more tubs filled with more floating green chili. I saw the chili before I even saw the family, Emily’s grandma and relatives were making the beginnings of homemade kimchi and gojuchang!

making kimchi

I was told that the produce in their garden was for their own consumption as with other households. 

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All these greens were going into the family activity for this day. Grandma went ahead and bought some 5 kilos at least of these green chili peppers at the market. 

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Emily told me that it was about this time of the year when families gather together to make one year’s worth of kimchi for consumption during the winter and the following year. They even have a fridge devoted solely for Kimchi!

It always starts with the green chili peppers, separating the good ones from the bad ones. I helped cut out the long stems from a clean tub meant for making the Gojuchang (red chili pepper paste). Man, it was tough to cut them one by one (Emily taught me to hold the scissors properly so that I won't have to exert so much pressure)!

i helped

The other tubs were for different purposes, some to eat by itself and some for making soy sauce and other types of kimchi. The chili had to be dried and fermented so that the batch will turn sour in a few weeks. I don’t know why Grandma bought the green ones, maybe it will turn red in a few days or they want it spicier. They let me taste soy sauce made from the chili simmering in a pot and it was surprisingly not spicy. I started to think they were making great stuff with these green chili peppers. 

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My stomach started to crumble and they all heard it (no translation needed). I was pulled away from the green chili peppers to the main part of the house.

It was much warmer inside. I was beginning to love the ondol system (heated floors). It actually made sense to take off your shoes every time I stepped in a room or house with a heated floor. It would be a waste not to feel the heat with shoes on. The room was cozy, simple and small and it was used very efficiently. It can be turned into a living room, bedroom or dining room with one swish! They quickly converted the modest space into a dining room. A short table for 4 was put out and stacks of refrigerated containers were laid out in front of me. I was to eat all of these because my stomach made that awkward sound.

home-cooked meal

I could only recognize the healthy organic red rice and kimchi. Everything else looked pickled. To my surprise, my friend told me that all of these were different kinds of homemade kimchi! Boy, my head was swimming with all the information – jjangaji (made of sweet fruit, could be for dessert), kimchi beju (白菜, pechay), gat kimchi, manul (garlic kimchi), jjangaqi (tasted sweet and sour), genip kimchi (sesame leaves or perilla). I thought that was the end of it. They gave me a bowl of kimchi chigae (kimchi soup) to boot (perfect with the red rice, my favorite of them all)! I believed them when they said that all of these were made last year. I had never seen so many kinds of kimchi in my life and they all tasted different! There was also some duenjang jjigae (like miso soup)! I felt super healthy and full with just kimchi. I never understood how Koreans could survive eating only kimchi until this day.

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They watched me eat merrily while they ate some persimmon (Hong si/gam 紅柿子) and grapes (Podo).

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I first noticed the grapes, which looked like cartoon grapes – perfectly round, dark purple and bunched together and the way they were eating it. I figured at that moment that they were existent and not just an idea of drawing grapes that my teacher taught me. 

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The ones that we have in Manila are usually oblong in shape and have a totally different color. Plus, they were eating (sucking) the grapes out of the skin! 

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I was ecstatic to learn that trick after I ate the soft persimmon and I did (the skin came right off, it was easy for their soft grapes not so easy for the ones we have back home)! Please pardon the mess.

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