When Koreans suffer from a loss of appetite, they often turn to jeotgal, or pickled fish. They flavor it with minced garlic, green onions, sesame salt and sesame oil, and red pepper powder. The tasty, salty dish compels us to eat spoonful after spoonful of rice, proving its nickname as the “rice thief.” Pickled seafood has long been made in Korea by preserving a variety of fish and shellfish in salt, but few people know that there are over 100 kinds of such pickles in the nation.
Pickled shrimp and clams are widely favored in the central provinces, while the southern provinces prefer hot and spicy pickles like anchovies and cod gills. In fact you can often guess the hometown of someone by tasting their pickled fish recipe.
Similar fermented dishes are easily found in other countries. Natto, traditional Japanese fermented soybeans, is well-known for being nutritious, but people are widely divided on the taste. To eat natto, the Japanese usually put it on steamed rice, crack a fresh egg on top, and mix it all together. Some find the smell of the fermented soybeans repulsive, while others welcome it as a sign of health and nutrition. In recent years, eating natto by mixing it with finely cut kimchi is said to be growing in popularity. How’s that for a fermented feast?
A familiar site to visitors to Germany is restaurants serving a dish similar to Korean kimchi. That would be sauerkraut, or literally, “sour cabbage.” The fermented cabbage is usually served with sausage or bacon. If you can finely slice cabbage, you can make sauerkraut. It’s much simpler to make than kimchi.
Indonesia is home to its own unforgettable fermented treat: tempeh, fermented soybeans that look like a cereal bar or solid bean curd. These days, it is popular among vegetarians seeking to supplement their protein intake.
In Ethiopia, injera, fermented bread, is so important that it is used in the country’s morning greetings. It looks similar to a big, flat, spongy pancake and it is eaten throughout the day along with spicy meat. Taking three or more days to prepare, injera is a food that needs a lot of work.
It is intriguing that throughout the world, fermented dishes born from ancient cultural practices are evolving to meet the changing needs of the modern generation. While fermented foods remain something of an acquired taste, and while the perfect recipe remains a matter of contention, there is no doubt about their powerful health benefits. So whether shellfish, shrimp, or sauerkraut are more to your liking, why not serve up an extra portion of fermented favorites for your next meal?
Written by Kim Shinyoung
Illustrated by Jeong Hyoju