Koreans tend to eat their favorite pickled dish, kimchi (김치), with every meal. Essentially, kimchi is a bold and spicy fermented cabbage. It comes in hundreds of varieties and can be made with many different vegetables. Cabbage and radish are the most common forms.
The fermentation process is a bit tricky. If kimchi is too cold, it will freeze. If it gets too hot, it will over ferment and spoil. Prior to modern refrigeration, kimchi was kept underground in large pots. These pots were buried just before the first snowfall, sometime in November. When Spring came around, the pots were unearthed and the kimchi would be perfectly ready for consumption. The tradition of making pounds and pounds of kimchi to both be buried for the Spring and to be eaten through the Winter is called Gimjang ( 김장 ).
This Gimjang tradition dates back to the 13th century and is still practiced today. However, due to advances in technology, Gimjang is dying. With modern refrigeration, kimchi can be prepared and stored at any time, in any season. Also, there are factories in Korea that mass produce this beloved side dish, making it unnecessary for many to even make their own kimchi – which is quite a tedious and time consuming process.
Since the first snow has just fallen here in Korea, I’ve noticed quite a few folks in my sleepy little country town out practicing the art of Gimjang. It’s typically done as a family, but I noticed several Korean grandmas and ajummas working on Gimjang solo. I went ahead and chatted with several of them on the street about this tradition while snapping some discrete photos with my Rolleiflex Automat A. These candid shots were captured in Anseong, South Korea on Kodak Tri-X 400 medium format film and personally developed in the darkroom with D76. © Patrick Bresnahan