Walk into any Korean restaurant and you’ll be sure to find kimchi available as a side dish or incorporated into meals such as kimchi fried rice. Wonder how Korea’s national dish packs such a punch? That’s probably because kimchi is created with fermented cabbage and lots of spicy seasoning. Even if your taste buds can’t quite handle kimchi, we’re going to bet you’re familiar with the sight and smell of it.
In fact, these days you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone here in Southern California who is completely unaware of kimchi. With the rise in popularity of Korean food over recent years, we’ve all grown familiar with kimchi’s strong taste and even stronger scent. But before I picked up the habit of stuffing myself with KBBQ in college, I can honestly say I didn’t have a clue in the world what kimchi was. If you had placed a bowl of kimchi in front of me as a kid, I would have just stared at you in confusion.
And I don’t seem to be the only one who would react this way. Knowing that children who aren’t Korean hold a higher chance of being unfamiliar with kimchi, The Fine Bros’ React Channel decided it would be fun to show children eating kimchi for the very first time.
We weren’t too surprised over the initial reaction that many of the children had. After all, the sight of vegetables isn’t often what appeals to kids and the strong aroma can make anyone wary if they’re not familiar with it. Luckily, the children in this video were all troopers about it, and we were happy to see that the kids were pleasantly surprised. Sure, a few of them were so overcome with spiciness that they needed water before talking, but kimchi certainly received more thumbs up than thumbs down.
Best of all, the kids reacted to kimchi with much more grace than our previous video showing British people tasting kimchi for the first time. Thumbs up for their open-mindedness of children.
You don’t know Korean cuisine until you try kimchi.
Hailed as the national dish of Korea, kimchi is renowned for its powerful spicy and sour taste as well as its many health benefits. While kimchi is considered to be a key part of a balanced Korean meal, there are plenty of people in the world who have yet to experience its pungent taste.
This is where YouTube channel 영국남자, or Korean Englishman, comes in.
The channel, run by Josh Carrott and Ollie Kendal, recently recruited a few British people to try the fermented side dish for the first time. Granted, kimchi in a bag is not exactly the most authentic form of the famed dish, but traveling with a jar of kimchi from Seoul to London doesn’t sound fun.
At first, the British tasters have a hard time handling the kimchi‘s spicinessand end coughing it up. But Josh has a few tricks up his sleeve, and by the end of the video, most of the tasters find kimchi to be “quite good.”
Emily Kwangsook Kim—better known as Maangchi—-gets approached all the time by strangers as she’s out and about. She may not recognize the friendly, excited faces that greet her, but to them, she might as well be their aunt, sister or close friend who’s been inside their kitchens for years, whipping up tasty Korean dishes and snacks.
Maangchi, as Kim prefers to be called, has become an online video sensation across the globe for her upbeat, easy-to-follow videos on how to prepare Korean food. She has a website featuring hundreds of recipes and a section where she posts stories of her travels and encounters with fans; a YouTube channel that’s garnered more than 580,000 page views; and a dynamic social media presence, including 11,600 Twitter followers.
In addition, on May 19, Maangchi comes out with her first major cookbook,Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) featuring her most popular recipes, from Korean soups and stews to kimchi to side dishes to noodles and party food.
How did someone with no professional culinary or video training become one of Korean cuisine’s most prolific and visible ambassadors to legions of home chefs? In today’s democratized Internet age, charisma, a well-developed skill and savvy for the online user experience can go a long way toward making the person-next-door into the next YouTube star.
Not only is Maangchi blessed with all of the above, she never even set out to become as well-known as she is today. Cooking was always a passion; making cooking videos, merely a hobby. It also hasn’t hurt that Korean food has undergone an explosion in popularity in recent years as hallyu, or the Korean wave, has become a tidal force.
Maangchi’s first video, uploaded in April 2007—and accompanied by the Morrissey song “Why Don’t You Find Out for Yourself?”—was about how to make spicy seafood stir-fry, ojingeo-bokkeum. “When I made this video on YouTube, I was very nervous.
I didn’t know how long I would have this hobby,” says Maangchi in a phone interview with KoreAm, from her home in Manhattan. “Once I uploaded my first video, I was very surprised. [Viewers] asked me to make my next recipe. ‘Interaction is really going well,’ I thought. ‘This is so fun.’ I thought I’m going to keep this as a hobby forever.”
Her site grew so popular, Maangchi was able to quit her day job as a family counselor at a nonprofit to focus on her website, maangchi.com, full-time. In 2011, her website was named among the “most useful” by the Korea Herald, alongside Visit Korea, SeoulStyle, ZenKimchi and Soompi.
Her recipe for Korean fried chicken, yangnyeom-tongdak, recently surpassed her kimchi recipe as most popular on her website, hitting 2 million page views. (Save that one for your next spring potluck.)
Maangchi uploads a new cooking video every 10 days, using a digital Canon EOS 5D and editing footage on Adobe Premiere, which she taught herself how to use. Longtime fans who have been visiting her site since the early years may notice the considerably improved production values to her videos, as well as her upgraded kitchen with modern, stainless steel appliances.
With her charming enthusiasm, slightly high-pitched accented English, eclectic outfits and unique hairstyles (she’s been known to sport colorful wigs), Maangchi makes learning how to cook Korean food seem fun, easy and engaging. Her welcoming persona has expanded her network of online followers to points as far-flung as Moscow, Russia; Leipzig, Germany; and Pearland, Texas.
Maangchi with young fans.
Her clear instructions and collection of recipes elicit such feedback as, “I FINALLY found what I’ve been looking for: authentic Korean cooking as made by a Korean, for a Korean. This is my sister from another mother. Or, this is my mother from another sister,” as posted on updownacross, a blog run by New Yorker Joann Kim.
Maangchi also receives touching letters from fans, such as the woman who came across Maangchi’s site after her mother passed away, without having had the chance to learn how to cook Korean food from her. “‘One day I was cooking some of your recipes in the kitchen and my father came out from his room and said, ‘Oh, this smell reminds me of your mom! I feel your mom comes alive now!’” the fan wrote to Maangchi.
Maangchi peels garlic before making kimchi in New Zealand in 2011.
Maangchi, who is in her 50s, was born in Imsil in North Joella province and raised in the South Joella city of Yeosu, where her father ran a fish auction business. She was drawn to food from a young age. As a kid, she writes in the introduction to her cookbook, she would try dishes made by her mom, grandmother and aunts and “quietly determine who made the best version of each dish.”
That discerning palate took on a commanding influence in the schoolroom—Maangchi would organize group lunches in which each friend was responsible for a particular dish. Her Korean culinary knowledge is honed from family and friends, years of practice and sharing recipes with fellow Korean expats in Columbus, Missouri, where she lived when her ex-husband was getting his Ph.D.
“Since I was young, I have been cooking from memory, and sometimes, I’m learning from some other people,” Maangchi says. “Each recipe has my own story. Like for tangsuyuk, I learned how to make the crispy crunch batter from my close friend. All recipes over the years, I learned from my grandmother, all different people.” (The trick to the crispy batter, she explains in her book, is to mix potato starch with water in a bowl, allow the starch to settle to the bottom, then drain the water and mix the remaining starch with an egg white to create a coating. “As with crispy fried chicken, double-frying is essential,” Maangchi writes.)
Judging a Korean cooking challenge at Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Campus in 2013.
Maangchi moved to Toronto from Korea after she and her first husband divorced, once their two children were all grown up. She worked various jobs, including as a cashier, movie extra, translator and interpreter. It was in Toronto where she recreated herself as “Maangchi,” or “hammer,” slayer of villains in the popular South Korean online video game “City of Heroes.”
The online moniker stuck—even after her addiction to the video game subsided after three-and-a-half years. By then, Maangchi had turned to a new hobby, making cooking videos and uploading them to a fast-growing video sharing service called YouTube.
Maangchi, whose tough name belies a sweet demeanor, credits her accessibility on camera to her years spent as an educator. She attended teachers’ college in Seoul and earned a certificate in social studies and a master’s in education.
In 2011, Maangchi was selected by YouTube as one of 25 up-and-coming video creators to receive a $35,000 grant through the company’s NextUp program. She used the money to travel and meet her fans all over the world in what she coined the “Gapshida! Journey” (Let’s Go!). She visited nine countries and 11 cities, sampling home-cooked foods in such places as Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.
L to R: Members of a NYC gathering sample Maangchi’s homemade kimchi; Maangchi leads a Korean cooking class at Whole Foods Culinary Center in NYC in April 2011
“If I’m selected,” she recalled thinking, “I’d like to meet my readers all around the world. I want to meet them. We’ll make videos together. Sometimes I want to encourage my readers to make their own food and make them just like [I make mine].
“I had a chance to taste the food that my readers made, home-cooked food,” Maangchi adds.
Her zest for food—not only Korean, but of other cultures—is reflected in the panoply of global food friends that frequent her online forums and leave superlative comments. She re-posts their food photos based on her recipes and attends Meetup events organized in her honor. She also frequently posts about Korean food customs and personal recollections from her days growing up in Korea. She already has three self-published cookbooks through Amazon (downloaded more than 6 million times through her website).
Maangchi with her fans in Malaysia during her Gapshida! Tour in 2012.
Maangchi says visitors are drawn to her site for all sorts of reasons. There are the non-Koreans who have tried a Korean restaurant for the first time; the second-generation Korean Americans who want to replicate their mother’s cooking at home; and the Korean adoptees from all over the world. Not least of all, there are the Korean drama enthusiasts.
“Some people come [to my site] from Korean dramas—they love Korean dramas,” Maangchi says with a laugh, pointing out how they’ll seek out her recipe for jjajangmyun (noodles in black bean sauce) because their favorite stars have eaten it on screen.
As for her fans, Maangchi adds, “These people consider me as their sister or mom or relative. I feel really close [to them]. I never feel lonely.”
All photos courtesy of Maangchi
This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).
Instagram videos seem to be getting more and more creative. You can find everything from quick comedic clips to a short vacation documentary. But what about a video series?
Korean American rapper, Lyricks, began a mini cooking series which showcases step-by-step instructions on recreating traditional Korean dishes on his Instagram. During the snowy season at his home in Northern Virginia, he shows followers how to make kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage that is a staple side dish with meals. He also shows his process of cooking braised mackerel for his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. As a cute and hilarious bonus, Lyricks also includes a few tips he learned from his halmeoni, or grandma.
A video posted by LYRICKS | THE BEAUTIFUL CYCLE (@lyricksva) on
As Lyricks would say… Boom Bap! I found his commentary quite entertaining and I look forward to seeing what else he whipped up for his followers, but was left curious at what some of the Korean words meant. Anyone want to help out and translate?
While Birdman swept four awards at the 87th Academy Awards, the dark comedy seems to have irked some South Korean netizens and film critics over a line involving the country’s flagship dish, kimchi.
In the controversial scene, Emma Stone’s character compares the scent of the flower shop to the pungent smell of kimchi. When her father, played by Michael Keaton, asks for flowers that smell nice, Stone replies, “It all smells like f–king kimchi.”
Although the Oscar-winning film has not yet been released in South Korea, local film critics have already accused the film for mocking Korean culture. Netizens have also criticized the film for disparaging Asian culture with other scenes, including one where a Japanese journalist is unable to speak English.
The local marketer for Birdman, however, has firmly denied these allegations.
“The flower shop Emma Stone visits in the film is run by an Asian and the line was simply used to portray her neurotic character,” a company official said. “There is no intention at all to belittle a certain country or culture.”
Birdman is slated to hit South Korean theaters on March 5.
I think every one of us can immediately list foods that remind us of our childhood, the foods that give us comfort and feel like home. But how about foods that revive a childhood that we can’t seem to remember? When I boarded the plane to my new American life, in 1983, I not only left my foster mother, my orphanage and all that I knew for four years, but my home country and its culture.
Growing up in the suburbs of Michigan, with very Caucasian surroundings, I underwent the process that any foreigner goes through to assimilate and survive in her new life. I began learning my new family’s culture, and soon enough the memories of my birth country began to dissolve. I began to forget that I was Korean and had come from very different beginnings. It was almost like I folded the memories neatly and tucked them in a back drawer, opening them only now and then.
One summer when I was 12 years old, my family took a summer road trip to Kentucky to meet my father’s friend, whom he had served alongside in Desert Storm. His wife, Suk, happened to be South Korean, and they had two sons. We spent a week with their family, and I always remember the trip very fondly. One day, Suk took my mother and me to a commissary that happened to sell some Korean foods, such as ramen and kimchi. I was flabbergasted to see all the different kinds of spicy ramens in the aisle. Up until then I thought ramen only came in chicken flavor.
When we arrived back at her house with a bag full of groceries, Suk seemed excited to introduce me to some humble Korean treats. I remember standing on her linoleum kitchen floor as she reached into the fridge and took out a gigantic jar of what looked like brains to me. She told me it was spicy cabbage, a staple of Korean cuisine. “Wow,” I thought, “it looks gross.”
Suk set up a traditional, low Korean table on the floor and cooked up a very simple ramen dish with an egg, a bowl of steamed rice, some seaweed wraps and the kimchi. I felt new to the experience, but excited. I could tell Suk was excited, too, to share some of the foods that I seemed to have forgotten. As I took in a waft of the kimchi, it smelled garlicky and a bit rancid. I took a bite, and it was crunchy, yet soft in texture. Despite how smelly it was, I was in love with kimchi from the first bite. I remember eating some rice with the kimchi, and even the rice was different than what I had throughout my American life. It was stickier. I sat at the Korean table scarfing down the Korean edibles, and somehow I felt connected to a part of my old self. And, it felt familiar. Kimchi felt familiar.
The experience made me realize that our sense of smell and taste are extremely potent. Perhaps the olfactory and gustatory memory is even more reliable than our other memories because the latter often gets distorted by its owners. But our smell- and taste-based memories seem more pure, reminding us of something good or even something bad.
We all have these stories, stories of the foods that instantly give us that feeling of “home.” For me, this bowl of kimchi triggered some internal whisper that brought me back to my earliest, yet seemingly forgotten days. “Ahhh, I remember you,” the voice said. “Where have you been?”
Kam Redlawsk’s column runs every other month. To read more from Kam, visit her website or Facebook page.
This article was published in the October/November 2014 issue of KoreAm under the title “Kimchi Nostalgia” Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the magazine issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).
Dexter Morgan has seen his share of blood splatter. But would he be able to handle kimchi splatter?
MBC’s Everybody Kimchi! explores the phenomenon of assault with a fermented weapon to the juiciest extent. The South Korean TV show is set in the kimchi industry, and like the dish itself, we can only imagine the drama is just as spicy.
In a recent episode, Won Ki-jun’s character plays a big-shot jerk lawyer who betrays the woman’s daughter. In perhaps one of the best redemption/revenge scenes ever, he gets what’s coming to him. The mother takes an entire cabbage head of kimchi and gives the guy a thorough whack. Move over, Oldboy.
The slap occurs at about the 1:30 mark.
Anyone else feel worse for his white shirt than for him getting kimchi juice all up in his ear and office? And by the way, what’s up with the printer in the back shooting out a sheet of paper just as the slap occurs?
We understand that face: cleaning up spilled kimchi is like dealing with a radiation leak. Also, the shirt. The poor shirt.
For those who can’t get enough, here’s the kimchi slap over and over for one minute.
Summer’s nearly here, and that means barbecue season! That might also mean your standard fare of hot dogs and burgers, macaroni salad and other outdoor food staples. But if you’re thinking of trying something new, here’s one way to take your next hot dog to the next level.
This recipe for the Kimchi hot dog comes from online Korean cuisine master Emily Kim, who also goes by Maangchi, which means “hammer” in Korean. Aside from publishing actual cookbooks, you can check out the extensive number of videos on her YouTube channel. Be sure to note the special way she prepares the hot dogs.
– 4 hot dog buns
– 4 hot dogs, scored
– 1/3 cup fermented kimchi, chopped
– 1/4 cup chopped onion
– 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
– a pinch of sugar
– lettuce leaves
– cheddar cheese
1. Heat up a large grill or pan over medium high heat. Lower the heat to medium. Add the vegetable oil and cook the dogs until outside is crispy. Take out the dogs to a plate and set aside. Cook the buns, turning them with tongs until fluffy. Take the buns out and set aside.
2. Tilt the pan to collect the leftover oil and add kimchi. Stir-fry it for a few minutes. Add sugar and stir. Remove from the heat and add the chopped onion. Mix it well. The onion will be a little cooked from the heated kimchi.
Put some lettuce, cooked kimchi onion mixture, and a dog in each bun and top with mustard and cheddar.