I must confess, in order to introduce Song Hee Victor Ho [owner of Una Canción Coreana, the best Korean restaurant in Buenos Aires, Argentina] very well, that I do remember the first time I ate kimchi. There is no room to ditch memories when it comes to talk about the dish that the first Korean female astronaut, Yi So-Yeon, brought up with her to space to eat in 2008.
I glimpsed the other side a lovely day of early September. This was in my native town of Caracas, Venezuela. It was Friday -or maybe it was Thursday? Whatever, this is not a conflict. I was having lunch with friends before my departure to New York for holidays. “For me, it’s like water and/or air,” says Victor trying to revive the feelings when he hears the word ‘kimchi’. “I can only ratify that, for me, it’s indispensable to live. It was part of my everyday diet, before walking or starting to talk.”
In my case, it was that day, around 2013 (5 years after So-Yeon’s first try of eating her heritage to survive in the space, to take love to the moon and beyond, literally), whilst stepping out of Din Din Korea with my stomach still feeling the revelation of an incredible Korean barbecue; when I realised that I was leaving an old me to open the doors to a new one. By the end of that summer, I came back from New York feeling like I was winning. Sort of. I decided to quit my job to become a freelancer, following the launch of a clothing brand with a friend, until ultimately, I decided to leave my country to pursue my passion and be with my love dans un autre fuseau horaire.
Surely, something very different from Yi So-Yeon’s story.
My encounter with Victor was kind of fortuitous, in comparison with the first time I tasted kimchi. I met Ana first, his wife, who welcomed us one Sunday night in Buenos Aires in a Korean quest that ended up in a feast of sensations and flavours. I pondered reaching out to Ana, but my motivation was on the edge of glory, so I did. Victor kindly agreed on talking to me about this dish: “After discussing with Ana, I’m going to answer everything related to this, if you allow me,” he said. “The reason is, that in my family, I am the one I like the most and the one who eats the most Kimchi.”
I didn’t protest, I wanted to motor through the clammy mists of my western references. Just like when I came across with CL singing 나쁜 기집애 (English of The Baddest Female), I left Victor to talk.
The best stories to tell are mine. When I was in Korea with an Argentine businessman, he could tell that I was very nervous, he said to me: “You must miss Kimchi in your blood.” I have also read a joke on Facebook. It says that one of the ways to torture a Korean is to feed them with ramyeon without proving some kimchi. It’s invigorating to the point I can never leave it aside from any food I eat.
Every family is different, every house is different and so are the variations of the recipe. To elevate the realness, one must say that it is a way to surrender to the secrets of a mother. In our house, it is essential to use fermented fish or seafood pasta. This is a successful game, if you put it that way. A game of more than 50 ways of making kimchi. The famous one is Bechu Kimchi, but again it’s your duty to include Chong Gak Kimchi (with very small turnips with their green leaves), Gat Kimchi, Mul Kimchi (a very watery symphony for the mouth), Oi Sobe Gui (with cucumber) and Pha Kimchi (in which the green onion is the queen). Either way, I have never tried anything like the one my mother makes in Seoul.
The rite is less complex, but you have to be prepared to divest yourself of any prejudice. It is a moment of peace accompanied by white rice. My technique is simple, I take the rice with the spoon and I put a piece of the kimchi on top… and straight to my palate. It is also very delicious to eat with ramyeon.
However, the experience depends on every one of us – and by “us” I mean the person who’s eating kimchi. For me, the perfect sensation is when your vegetable gets fermented with a spicy, salty, even sweet-y taste to blend in for a perfect combination. Like love, it’s hard to explain with words.
Cover illustration x CHEVET by: Phoebe Low