Ferment This: Friendship Kkakdugi (깍두기)

It was a cold and rainy day…the kind of day meant for indoors pursuits. I had purchased a big, fresh Korean radish (Mu 무) recently, along with scallions, and the time felt right to create something tasty from these ingredients. Having recently met someone who mentioned that she enjoyed kimchi but didn’t make it herself, I decided that some of this batch of Kkakdugi (깍두기) would be gifted.

It’s funny how you meet people sometimes, isn’t it? It can happen when you’re not expecting it – like a conversation while waiting in line or on an elevator, finding some common ground with strangers. This was no different – I wasn’t expecting to meet someone who had more in common with me than most people I’d met in the past several years. I was surprised by this individual, someone whom I wouldn’t really have expected to be where she was.

When you move around frequently, you tend to have fewer friends than when you lived in the same neighborhood with the kids with whom you went to school. When you move for jobs, in particular, few people with whom you may have been “work friends” keep in touch – they’re busy, you’re busy, there’s the distance, and perhaps the job really was what you had in common with them. It happens and it’s understandable.

I enjoy interacting with people – I’m curious about them, looking for context to better understand their frames of reference. Unless I can tell that they don’t want to chat, I often start conversations and – if they initiate – actively engage. Conversations with people I don’t know can be quite interesting, and I respect that some people want to connect with others, rather than just conducting their lives via technology. Interacting with a live person is much more stimulating – and demanding – than interacting via text or social media, where you can carefully curate what’s posted; in real life, you have to be quick on your feet and constantly gathering verbal and non-verbal information.

This particular encounter began as mundane small talk, just filling empty space instead of being politely busy with other matters. As we talked, though, the conversation led to the realization that we had things in common and, surprisingly, we were able to have a fairly extended conversation. I left the place we had chatted feeling energized, and it was then that I resolved that I would take my new friend, H., some homemade kimchi.

Making kkakdugi is a simple process: cut up the Korean radish, salt and sugar it, leave it for about a half hour, drain off the liquid, add the gochugaru, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, most of the reserved radish liquid, and scallions, and mix it all together. Pack into jars and let it work its probiotic magic for several days (or eat it immediately because it’s delicious).

I had a clean pint jar reserved for H’s kimchi, and I packed it full, placed a piece of wrap on top, and then closed the lid. To prevent the possibility of leakage, I also put the whole jar into a quart-sized zipper bag – if kimchi juice leaks in your car, you may as well send it to the junkyard because that smell will never come out. (just kidding, but it would not be a good thing to have happen to your car)

I was already planning to stop by H’s place this morning, so I brought the kkakdugi with me. I make mine very spicy, but I had reason to believe that she would also like it that way. I also know how awkward it can be to receive an unsolicited gift of food from someone you don’t know well, but I think she was pleased and I hope she enjoys it. I know we’ll enjoy the jars that are currently fermenting atop the “ferments fridge”. (yep, they outgrew the kitchen fridge)

Are you giving (or potentially receiving) ferments for the holidays? May the lucky recipients and/or you enjoy them in good health!