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Have you ever had kimchi (김치)?

Soon into our relationship, Daniel took me on a date to a Korean restaurant in Chicago. We waited in line for a good while and the entire time I was enjoying the new aroma coming from the restaurant. There, I had my first bulgogi (불고기) and banchan (반찬).

The Korean barbecued beef, bulgogi, ended up being a beautiful mix of flavors I couldn’t get enough of. I later found out that bulgogi is always a good choice when trying Korean food. Most people have bulgogi or bibimbap as their first Korean meal and I was no exception. Both are great introductory meals into the complex and tasty Korean cuisine.

But kimchi, I quickly found out, I did not like. It was hate at first taste.

I was so worried that this guy I was dating would be offended that I didn’t like the national dish of his citizenship. So, I took a few bites of kimchi and then quickly moved on to the other banchan I enjoyed along with the beef I loved. I just couldn’t fake loving kimchi. It shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise seeing how I also didn’t like a staple side dish of my German heritage, sauerkraut.

If you’ve never been to a Korean restaurant, you may wonder what I mean by banchan. In Korean restaurants, you are served small dishes usually the size of a tea cup saucer (see picture above) that are different sides to the meal. Each restaurant serves different banchan but kimchi is always one of them.

Fast forward a couple of years in our dating relationship. We traveled to meet Daniel’s family in Japan and I was utterly terrified that I would offend his family with my distaste of kimchi. 

I was obviously anxious about this trip and asked several of my close friends to pray that it would go well.

The day after we arrived in Japan, Daniel’s mother made a dish and served it with a couple of banchan, including kimchi. I willed myself to eat the first bite with my rice and to my delight, I was hooked.

Maybe it was the change in air, change in culture, or change in attitude, but something changed. I can’t express how grateful I was and am that something changed.

Now, anytime we introduce a friend or relative to the world of Korean cuisine, I let them know that it’s okay if they don’t actually like kimchi. I didn’t at first and still ended up marrying a Korean man.

The first Korean dish my mother-in-law taught me to make was kimchi-jjigae, also known as kimchi stew or 김치 찌개. We had just returned from a Korean grocery store to buy the essential items for our newly-wed pantry. Our apartment was tiny and our kitchen was even smaller but we worked over a very hot stove in the heat of the Chicago summer while Daniel translated the whole thing.

It was a simple recipe and although it was a hot stew, I found it was refreshing on a 100 degree day.

I’ve since found that the dish works well in the heat of summer and cold of winter. I have tweaked a bit of the recipe and the flavors change eat time depending on the age of kimchi and items I have in my pantry.

These are the basic components:

  • .5 lbs meat, cut into bite-sized chunks (typically pork belly)
  • 2-3 cups kimchi, cut into bite-sized chunks (the older the kimchi, the better the flavor)
  • .5 cups kimchi juice (from the jar, if possible/if not possible, add more broth)
  • 2-3 cups dashi/stock (I usually make an anchovy and kombu stock but have used a variety of broths and stocks in the past and you can substitute water if you need)
  • 1 Tbs gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes-these are not the same as the red pepper flakes you probably have in your kitchen. I learned that the hard way)
  • 1 package tofu (typically in the dish but not required)
  • For more depth add optional: dash of mirin, 1 Tbs soy sauce, finely chopped garlic, fresh or ground ginger, 1 Tbs gochujang
  1. Before cooking, make rice
  2. Cook meat over medium-high heat in medium-sized pot (you will use the same pot for the entire dish)
  3. Add kimchi and garlic, soften
  4. Add remaining ingredients (excluding tofu) and bring to a boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally (note: if too much liquid evaporates, add more stock or water to the desired consistency)
  5. Cut tofu into sections, add to pot, and boil for another 3 minutes (optional)
  6. Serve with chopsticks, spoons, and rice

I hope you love this kimchi-heavy stew. If you make it, please let me know your thoughts!