Say Kimchi! Gimjang, a Korean winter tradition

When I think of winter, I think of snow blanketing the ground (or dreams of snow blanketing the ground). I think of decorating the Christmas tree, hanging wreaths around the house and on the front door, traipsing around the house with strands of garland and lights.

But here in Korea, as often is the case, it’s a very different story, and one that my children are learning every year as the days shorten and the air turns crispy.

Here, it’s Gimjang, or kimchi-making, season. It’s time to pack up and send the aprons and the hats and special ingredients to school so all the kids can work together to make kimchi.

Gimjang is an ages old tradition of preparing copious amounts of kimchi (Korea’s mainstay side dish) before the cold of winter hits. Before the invention of refrigeration, the fresh produce required to make kimchi would be harder to get.

Koreans, always the collective community, would certainly not partake in this activity alone, so traditionally, they would come together and make enough of the spicy side dish to last the whole winter. For everyone. Just imagine the buckets and buckets of kimchi!

These days, refrigerators are as common as coffee shops in Korea (read: very). Most Koreans even have a second refrigerator specifically for kimchi!) But traditions die hard on this peninsula, so Gimjang is still a regular practice every year, planned as soon as those beautiful and smelly yellow gingkos hit the ground.

I love that Finn and Poppy are learning these traditions from a different culture. And, don’t’ worry, there’s still a Christmas tree and enough garland and lights in their lives to wrap around our 17-story high-rise apartment twice.

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Poppy was scared of the kimchi at first, her teacher told me. But, once she got used to mixing the spicy and stinky cabbage with her hands, she got excited about and yelled “kimchi! kimchi!”

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7 Reasons why your family should travel in Asia

By Lindsay Nash

1. It’s kid-friendly! From its restaurants to shops to sacred temples and luxurious hotels, Asia wants to visit with your children. The it-takes-a-village-to-raise-a-child tenet reigns superior across the continent and your child will immediately be welcomed with open (and often outreached) arms. I can’t tell you how many times I looked at my young son and thought, ‘he’s going to get in trouble for that’ and then someone comes by with a smile, wink, or tussle of his hair.

2. It’s colorful. Kids love a bright and engaging place and Asia is just that. From colorful fruit for sale on street stands to women’s traditional saris in India, bright colors are everywhere, constantly begging for attention.

3. It’s hands-on. For better or worse, there’s not much in Asia that requires you to view from behind a rope or gate. Consider Angkor Wat, the thousands-year-old temple and city complex in Cambodia that is free for clamoring and roaming. It’s truly the ultimate fort for your children to discover (of course, with respect).

4. It’s educational. Why look at the picture of the Great Wall or Taj Mahal in a book? Take your children there and discover the magic of seeing these amazing places in person. Touch the walls, meet the people, and get a real feel for some of these world wonders.

5. It’s horizon-expanding. There is no greater lesson to learn than just how big the world is, and how different we can all live. But at the same time, we’ll all just people. It’s a lesson that’s easy to learn while traveling to a place very different than your own culture. You’ll meet new people who are very different, yet also the same as you.

6. It’s cultural. You can be blessed by elephants in India or attend a funeral parade in Bali. Eat kimchi in Korea or sit with monks in Thailand. Every experience will be a new one, and one that your children and family will remember for a lifetime.IMG_0611

7. It’s affordable. Your dollar will go a long way in most countries in Asia, especially in Southeast Asia. You can eat a tasty bowl of pho in Vietnam for about 20 cents. Or, in Korea, you can have a nice thick piece of grilled pork with tens of side dishes for about 10 bucks. And children often eat, visit or play for free at many hotels, parks, museums and other sites across Asia.