Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Story Of Water Kimchi (Or "How Do You Know That You're Eating The Right Way?")

Water kimchi at Shin Chon
At Shin Chon Garden, I was watching a middle-aged Korean guy out of the corner of my eye -- and trying to see if his wife thought he was bizarre.

I love to learn new cuisines, but I always wonder about what I'm learning -- especially since I'm often learning on the fly.

I know some basics for eating Korean food.  I've shared a "101 Class" about Korean barbecue. But I'm still figuring out the etiquette.

For example, how do you eat water kimchi?  It's one of the little bowls that Shin Chon Garden serves as panchan with the meal.  A few pieces of vegetable in a cold liquid.  It's good, but it always seemed weird that they serve just a few pieces of vegetable.

That's why I noticed when the guy at the next table lifted the bowl and drank.  You drink the water!  At least, I think.  I was 75% sure, but 25% worried that it was just something weird about this guy.  Maybe that's completely wrong.  Maybe he just has a weird predilection -- fine for him, but embarrassing for the wife and certainly a scene if I ever glug, glug, glug from the water kimchi bowl.

His wife didn't object.  So I'm steeling myself up to drink water kimchi on my next trip to Shin Chon.  Then, it's time to find the next thing that I don't know.


EGKate said...

I have wondered about this dish myself! I love Korean food, but while the waitstaff in Korean restaurants tend to be very polite, they often lack the English to explain things. It's not surprising that you're meant to drink the water kimchi, but we Americans tend to have an aversion to sharing saliva (which is clearly not shared by Korean culture) that would keep us from guessing the proper way to eat it.

I am glad you posted a reminder of you BBQ 101 post today. I have been eating Korean food for years, but I am having BBQ for the first time tonight!

EastCoastMatt said...

Most folks will get a bit of the water kimchi with a spoon, much like you would eat a soup. I've never chugged that in a group setting though, when you're just with family, anything goes.

Anonymous said...

I agree with EastCoastMatt that a lot of koreans usually use a spoon but I know the older Korean generation like my parents will drink it right from the bowl towards the end of a meal. I personally prefer the spoon method.

Unknown said...

haha nice blog :) lovely ^^
Love, Lizzie-

daelicious said...

I personally drink it straight from the bowl, "ahjushi" style ("ahjushi" being the term for "older, usually married man" in Korean). Its probably more polite to use a spoon, and Asians are supposed to be a shame-based culture, but there are certain things that older Korean people have no shame about, like wearing white socks with dress shoes, drinking straight out of the bowl, etc. If you really want to do ahjushi style all the way, you need to drink water and when you're done, let out a loud, "aaah" sound. Again, no shame. haha.

The Lighthouse Tofu on Rt. 40 gives everyone an individual bowl of water kimchi (avoiding contamination), but their version is a bit spicier.

Speaking of saliva sharing, in home settings, Koreans will usually take a small portion of whatever banchan they want to eat and place it in a separate smaller bowl to serve, rather than eating straight from the entire large batch. This is to prevent waste, and to prevent saliva from people's chopsticks contaminating the entire container of banchan. Any uneaten banchan is supposed to be thrown out.

Gabrielle said...

Thanks for explaining how to eat this banchan. I'll know for next time.