Kimchi-making season hit by poor vegetable harvest

[As Heard in North Korea]
Kang Mi Jin  |  2017-11-07 17:43

"As Heard in North Korea" articles contain radio programming content broadcast by Unification Media Group [UMG], an independent multimedia consortium targeting the North Korean people.

Unification Media Group (UMG): With the end of 2017 fast approaching, we are reminded of the long and difficult year that North Korea has faced due to drought and the current harvest crisis. Reporter Kang Mi Jin joins us once again to discuss the kimchi-making season and the differences between the kinds of kimchi made in North and South Korea.
Kang Mi Jin (Kang): November marks the height of kimchi-making season across most regions of North Korea, although some areas have already finished now. We previously heard that grain harvests are not going very well this fall, and we now know that the vegetable harvests are suffering as well. These events have created a great deal of worry as many focus on securing enough food for the coming year. 
Kimchi is such an important food to North Koreans that it is colloquially thought of as 'half a person's diet'. Most families believe kimchi-making is a necessary tradition, no matter how difficult the circumstances, and that it is essential to their fundamental vitality. Its so important that we even refer to the roughly one-week preparation period as the "Kimjang (kimchi-making) Battle." We make so much that we count it in tons, not heads of cabbage. When I first came to South Korea, I visited a friend's home, and upon arriving, my friend asked me how many heads of kimchi I had prepared that year. But I had no idea how to answer that since we don't count it that way. 
UMG: In South Korea, each region offers its own unique type of kimchi using natural ingredients that have traditionally been available in the area. And due to the warm weather, kimchi in the South is typically made using a lot of salt, salted fish, and peppers to keep it fresh. But in the North, kimchi can be made using less salt and red peppers. Can a different kind of kimchi be found in each region there as well? 
Kang: North Koreans have over the past few decades gotten used to supplementing their often meager supplies of grain with an abundance of vegetables. This is why vegetables and kimchi are regarded as so important. Just as in the South, each region is known for its own unique kinds of cabbage and radish kimchi. 
Typical cabbage kimchi (laden with red pepper paste), thick and thinly sliced daikon radish kimchi, whole radish kimchi, and dried radish greens kimchi are all popular in the northern mountainous provinces of Ryanggang and North Hamgyong. Mustard leaf kimchi is also famous in these regions for its refreshing taste that reminds you of the cool, clean feeling of a lush green valley. 

White cabbage kimchi is popular in Pyongan and Hwanghae Provinces. This kind of kimchi only features added salt and either small amounts of red pepper powder or none at all. Kaesong in the south is known for bossam kimchi, while water radish kimchi is popular in the capital Pyongyang.

UMG: Do the regions all have their own methods for making kimchi? 
Kang: For the most part, North Koreans use less seasoning than South Koreans when making basic cabbage kimchi. The taste can be described as a bit cleaner and more refreshing. I have very fond memories of eating white kimchi from parts of the Pyongan region, which I found tastier than the kimchi from the northern mountainous regions. The fact that white kimchi does not contain red pepper or garlic gives it a real fresh and sweet taste. Using the water as a soup base is just perfect on a nice spring day.   
Of course we cannot forget cubed daikon radish kimchi (kkakdugi), which in the North is cut into smaller cubes than in the South. Families that are more well-off may prepare some kkakdugi for guests or for holidays, but due to its tendency to soften over time, its typically not worth preparing large amounts. Growing up, my family also prepared more cabbage kimchi, water kimchi, and whole radish kimchi than kkakdugi. 
UMG: There are also many other types of kimchi in South Korea particular to specific regions, such as wild lettuce, seaweed, squash, chive, burdock, and red water kimchi. Does North Korea see the same kind of variation?
Kang: Yes, the regions of North Korea also boast of different types of local kimchi. There is scallion kimchi, chamnamul kimchi, and mountain greens kimchi to name a few. The juice of red cabbage kimchi was always great in summer. We ate the standard cabbage kimchi in summer, and some regions had bean sprout kimchi. 
The mustard greens kimchi that is popular in the northern regions has that refreshing taste as I described earlier and does not use much red pepper powder. You almost have to drink the kimchi juice to taste the intricate flavors, and it works really well when added to a soup. 
UMG: How people make and eat kimchi surely must depend on their standard of living though, correct?
Kang: Yes, thats an important point. Naturally, the production and consumption of kimchi is different for the wealthy compared to others. Poorer citizens are known to include various marine products such as pollack or halibut in the kimchi pot while wealthier people may include beef broth. But the poor would be happy to make any kimchi at all this year as the meager vegetable harvest and resulting scarcity of ingredients has made this difficult. Dried radish greens seem to be the vegetable of choice this time, given the circumstances. 
In times like these, I cannot help but look around at the abundance of vegetables here in the South and wish that I could distribute them to all of the people who cannot make kimchi this year in North Korea. As always, I continue to look forward to a better time, when the Koreas are unified and the people of North Korea can enjoy the kimchi-making season just as easily as we do now. 

*Translated by Colin Zwirko

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