The Kimchi Kindler
I recently joined a Facebook group that was titled something very generic like "Korean Cooking" or something like that. I joined mainly because it was the first group to pop up in my search and there were a hefty number of members. Looked pretty legit, so I requested membership. I've been a bit of a culinary hermit for some time now and I thought I should begin socializing more with other gastronomically-minded individuals.
Apparently the page administrator was some dude in Iceland and naturally many of the group members were Europeans posting their prized photos of a Korean dish they made or asking questions about Korean cooking how-to's. There were a good number of Koreans around as well, who usually took on the role of the advisor.
For the most part I kept quiet like my weird introverted self, occasionally liking an image. Then one day a post caught my eye. Ms. L asked:
"Can I make kimchi with gochujang? Or can I only use the chili flakes?"
Honestly I don't even know what came over me to respond in such a flash, but before I knew it I had left a comment:
"No," I posted simply.
I had a moment of discomfort as ambivalence took over my brain. In fact, I was nearly about to have an existential and cultural identity mini-crisis.
Was that "no" too stern? Will this woman now feel hurt by my matter-of-fact Korean tone? Should I have said "no" in more flowery and verbose language to soften my tone to protect my cultural heritage? Oh my god, what will these Westerners think of my motherland because of how I've spoken to them? I mean, gochujang IS Korean why couldn't she make kimchi with it anyway?
No, the other voice said. How dare she even ask such a question. Blasphemy. Your "no" was soft as it could get. You made your point and you simply answered a question. Protect your heritage! Kimchi is your, OUR, livelihood. Gochujang? Pah! It's sacred son! It's the blood, sweat and tears of your ancestors. Don't you delete that "no."
Shortly thereafter some middle-aged European woman made a comment saying something along the lines of: YES you can! Just go for it! Preservation is preservation, you should do what you want. Don't let Debbie downers tell you otherwise.
Reading that comment made something in me churn and I began feeling heat coming to my ears (that happens when I get mad). Han was beginning to come over me in super seiyan mode. I felt like a volcano about to erupt. I slapped my laptop closed and jumped out of my chair. "UGH!!"
I was mad, and I didn't like it. That lady's comment really bothered me, so much that I lost sleep over it and eventually the next morning I left the group. But I was still mad because I didn't have the courage to say anything. I felt like I've somehow dishonored my roots, my ancestors even. I felt afraid too. Koreans tend to have an apprehension of being imperialized.
I was also uncomfortable with my lack of confidence as to WHY exactly it wasn't okay to make kimchi with gochujang (or any other deviant ingredient/method for that matter). I really had no right to be so angry and I felt a bit at a loss. I did not feel I had enough knowledge nor merit on kimchi to confidently fight these mini culinary battles. Thus, it was time for me to prepare for war.
Thanks to that event I've decided to begin this kimchi diary. I guarantee you though, by the end of it all the answer to Ms. L's question will still be no.
Watch out, here's comes trouble (and lots of kimchi).