Kimchi, sometimes spelled "kim chi" or "kimchee," is a spicy Korean dish made from heavily seasoned cabbage and other types of vegetables. Although much less known in Western nations, kimchi is an amazingly popular side dish throughout Korea, eaten with most meals, and often served with noodles. (A recent survey conducted by the website Life in Korea found that the number of Koreans who claim to eat kimchi with every single meal ranged from over 55% to just under 70%, depending on the area of the country.)
Although preparation differs from region to region, with the dish sometimes being slightly milder in Northern Korea, most varieties of kimchi are extremely spicy, leading invariably to runny noses and watery eyes as the dish is consumed. While adventurous souls prefer to consume their kimchi as a side dish, others stir it into rice, soup, or dozens of other foods to provide flavor and spice. Over 100 different types of kimchi are known to exist, a number that is officially recognized by the Korean Food Academy.
Kimchi has the distinction of being an extraordinarily healthy and nutritious food. A typical recipe includes not only the mandatory ingredient of cabbage, but onions, cucumbers, and chili peppers as well. This combination provides a high concentrations of protein, fiber, Vitamins A and C, potassium, iron, and calcium. Chief among these important ingredients is I3C, aka indole-3-carbinol, which has been medically proven to reduce the risk of cancer. In fact, in a handful of remarkable cases, the consumption of kimchi actually assisted in the reduction of tumors in a patient. So well known are the healing properties of kimchi that a documentary film was recently made about the phenomenon: 2009's KimchiKhan.
The annual kimchi harvest is a major event in Korea, Cabbages are cleaned, then cut into multiple pieces, usually 2-4, for preparation. Salt water is added to the cabbage at a ratio of 4:1 versus fresh water. The cabbage is then allowed to soak inside the mixture for up to 8 hours while fermentation takes place. Other ingredients, such as oysters, grains, vegetables, or spices may be added as needed while the cabbage soaks up the water.
Surplus kimchi is most often stored in clay pots, which allows the free circulation of air to continue unimpeded, without introducing the contaminating flavor of a metal container into the taste. The size and shape of these pots can vary based on the region, and are often as beautiful and intoxicating in their own right as the spicy dish which is stored inside them.