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In The Family
What Is Kimchi?

There’s much more to this iconic Korean fermented food than a pot of spicy cabbage.

When most people talk about kimchi, they mean the funky-spicy-garlicky dish of salt-fermented cabbage. But in the same way that “pickles” means a lot more than pickled cucumbers, “kimchi” means a lot more than spicy salty cabbage. Like the word “pickle,” “kimchi” is both a noun and a verb and can refer to all kinds of lactofermented foods aged in pickling crocks. Many of them aren’t spicy at all, such baek kimchi, a cabbage pickle minus the chile, or kkakdugi, made with chunks of daikon. The basic method for making them all is the same—salt plus produce plus flavorings plus time—so once you find a kimchi recipe you like, start pickling every crunchy vegetable you can find.

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Max Falkowitz

Max Falkowitz is a food and travel writer for The New York Times, Saveur, GQ, New York magazine’s Grub Street, and other outlets. He’s also the coauthor of The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook with Helen You.