When the temperature drops in late fall, Koreans know that kimjang season has arrived. “Kimjang” is the process of preparing and preserving a large amount of kimchi at once to eat throughout the long, cold Korean winter.
Kimchi refers to Korean-style preserved vegetables that are seasoned with Korean spices and seafood and then allowed to ferment. According to historical records, Koreans ate kimchi as a regular part of their diet as long as 760 years ago, since which time it has been a staple of every Korean meal regardless of social or regional differences. Although kimchi with rice is the simplest possible Korean meal, it is served at even the fanciest banquets.
Kimjang, a major part of Korea’s culinary culture, combines everything ancients Koreans knew about their natural environment and reflects their local ecosystems. Over time, Koreans developed versions of kimjang that were best suited to the various local environments throughout the country, with widely varying ingredients depending on the region. For foreigners interested in Korean culinary culture, learning about the diversity of kimchi is a particularly valuable experience.
In an effort to promote Korean culture and food to other countries, Seoul hosts the “Seoul Kimchi Making & Sharing Festival” every year. This festival showcases kimjang, which has been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
For three days (from Friday to Sunday) in the first week of November, Seoul Plaza, Taepyeong-ro, and Gwanghwamun Square are joined to create Korea’s largest “kimjang market” (length: 1.1 kilometers; total area: 30,500 square meters), where visitors from all over the world can see, experience, and taste everything about kimjang. Held for the second time this year, the Seoul Kimchi Making & Sharing Festival filled Seoul Plaza with 6,000 people (including 2,500 foreigners) eager to make kimchi. It was a massive “kimjang party” like the world had never seen.
A portion of the kimjang kimchi made on this day is automatically set aside to be donated to those in need through the Seoul Council on Social Welfare. In doing so, Koreans and non-Koreans alike are reacquainted with the warmth and generosity of Korea’s “jeong” culture.
On the last day (Sunday) of the festival, everyone gathers in downtown Seoul to turn 5,000 cabbages into kimchi. Through a game in which participants harvest cabbages that were actually planted over half of Seoul Plaza, they learn about the hard work, cooperation, and spirit of harmony that kimjang represents. The harvested cabbages can be taken home or donated. If taken home, the cabbages are seasoned according to that family’s kimjang tradition, and the remaining cabbages are donated to World Vision to be used to make kimchi for its “Lunch Boxes of Love” program.
Throughout the festival, visitors are introduced to the various ingredients, types of kimchi, and kimjang culture of all eight Korean provinces. The sheer scope of the variety is mind-boggling. Furthermore, the “Korea Kimjang Market” offers affordable, high-quality kimjang ingredients.
At Gwanghwamun Square, the Seoul Kimchi Making & Sharing Festival features an exhibition on the kimjang tradition. Through hands-on classes, Seoul residents and tourists are taught the special recipes of kimchi masters.
There are also kimjang performances, which combine kimjang with art, the universal language, allowing visitors to more easily and better understand this unique Korean tradition. The performances include “Kimjang Village,” “Kimchi Class,” “Kimchi Art Gallery,” and “Kimchi Star K: Fusion Party.”
Inquiries about the festival and/or registration may be directed to the event website (www.seoulkimchifestival.com) or Seoul City Hall’s Culture & Arts Division (82-2-2133-2574). Upon request, information will be provided about the special events to be held at the festival.