I have so many memories of my mother doing solo kimjang – her sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor on top of newspaper, surrounded by giant metal tubs filled with salted cabbage. My sister and I would help by peeling ten heads of garlic (until our fingers got too sticky with the papery skins). I would squat nearby and watch her rub fistfuls of marinade in between each leaf, and she would fold up a piece of loose cabbage for me to try. The flavors were pungent and wild, a kickstart for their fermentation journey into delicious, mellow ripeness.
Years later she showed me how to make my own kimchi in my Brooklyn apartment, balancing smaller metal tubs on every surface we could find.
Today, I still relish the opportunity to call her and ask her opinion as I perform my own solo kimjang, sitting in the middle of my own kitchen floor 3000 miles away.
Irene Yoo is the creator of Yooeating. Originally founded as a popup series in 2015, Yooeating is a Brooklyn-based Korean American comfort food channel that explores Korean home cooking, street food, and culinary history.