There’s a reason Koreans have a separate fridge just for their kimchi: It’s serious business (and it will totally stink up your regular fridge). One of my older cousin’s told me flat out:
“If there’s no kimchi on the table, I’m not eating.”
When I was younger, I never ate kimchi. Actually, as a very picky little kid I hated anything that I could recognize as a vegetable. Now that I’m a bit older and my palate is able to discern tastes other than McDonald’s and instant noodles, I really enjoy eating pickled radishes – and I think I get why the entire peninsula does too.
If you’ve ever squeezed a lemon over something to enhance its taste, you’ve used the power of acidity to stimulate your tastebuds. Kimchi goes through a long process of fermentation which gives it an acidic property. It works almost as a palate cleanser between bites of different types food – perfect for a traditional Korean-style meal which involves many small dishes called banchan.
It’s like the way ginger is eaten between different types of raw fish at a sushi restaurant – you want a neutral palate so you can get the full flavor of your next order of sashimi or nigiri without any overlap from your last order (and if you’re paying $10 for two pieces of fish, trust me you want to get your money’s worth).
So next time you have the chance to go to a Korean restaurant with some friends, avoid rushing in for the pork belly or galbi and try some pickled radish first, I guarantee you’ll have a better meal – and you will gain immense respect from any Koreans who may be eating with you. On a side note, your breath will be kicking so avoid kissing your girlfriend immediately after dinner.