Four years ago, a villager made a suggestion: Why not lead a kimjang workshop to give the village’s rapidly aging population extra income during the agricultural off-season and to help those who want to learn the art of making kimchi?
“We provide the ingredients fixed and ready, and all the participating families have to do is mix them into kimchi,” Ms. Han said. “We also try to recreate the merrymaking atmosphere of kimjang.”
In a custom similar to an Amish barn raising, entire villages used to turn out during kimjang, helping one family make its kimchi before moving on to the next. Hogs were slaughtered and makgeolli — Korean rice wine — was consumed over songs and laughter.
She listed them off: “Kimchi soup, kimchi stew, kimchi pancake, kimchi anything,” she said. “You can’t talk about Korean food without talking about kimchi.”
Woo Kyong-ho, a workshop organizer, said that when he traveled abroad and didn’t have kimchi for a few days, he suffered “kimchi withdrawal symptoms.” The food is so closely associated with Korean identity that when South Korea sent its first astronaut to the International Space Station in 2008, kimchi was taken along on the mission.
When Koreans take group photos, they say, “Kimchiiii,” instead of “cheese.”
“Kimjang and kimchi brought a Korean community together,” said Kim Jeong-hee, head of the Jinji Museum, which specializes in Korean culinary history.
Korean families don’t consume as much kimchi at home as their ancestors did. They eat out more often and have plenty of alternatives to choose from. They also buy more factory-made kimchi, 38 percent of which is imported from China.
In 2018, four out of every 10 South Korean households said they had never made kimchi or knew how to, according to the World Institute of Kimchi.