The city of Seoul held a kimchi festival Friday that was organized in part to keep alive a Korean tradition that is now in decline as technology and modernity have made impractical the communal practice of preparing food for the winter.
City officials expect more than 6,000 participants and visitors to attend the Kimjang Festival, which is named after the traditional process of making kimchi.
Seoul’s city hall plaza was converted into kimchi production lines as thousands of volunteers mixed an estimated 50 tons of cabbage with kimchi sauce made from fermented seafood and hot peppers.
Mayor Park Won-soon participated in the event, and Korean traditional dancers and musicians gave a sense of pageantry to what was essentially a volunteer labor operation.
Before the age of mass industrial production and modern refrigeration, Korean families and communities would gather after the harvest and before the first winter snowfall to make the uniquely Korean pungent spicy vegetable dish.
“Kimjang is a culture which people get together to overcome the severe winter by making kimchi. It is sad that this culture is fading away,” said Sohn Hyung-chae, a Seoul Kimjang Festival organizer.
While Koreans still eat kimchi nearly every day, they can now buy it in supermarkets year round. And with the fast pace of modern life, as well as work and family obligations, few have time to make large quantities of kimchi as in the past.
Kimjang, however, is so identified as part of the Korean culture that it has been listed by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Many Koreans also see kimchi as an essential part of their diet.
"With Kimjang, we can eat a large amount of food during winter, as we can make various kinds of dishes with kimchi." Said Chun Seong-hee, a volunteer who was helping mix kimchi at the festival.
While foreign tourists and residents also joined in the activities, some do not share the strong local appreciation for this Korean national food.
“It’s a bit spicy for me because I’m from Russia,” said Natalia Sukhora who has lived in Seoul for the last year.
The festival will run for three days. There are exhibits with different types of kimchi and classes to learn special Korean kimchi recipes. And on the last day the plaza will be converted into a cabbage patch with over 5,000 plants and games for children.
Festival organizers estimate that most of the 50 tons of kimchi will be donated to organizations that help the poor and underprivileged.
None of the kimchi made in Seoul will be sent to the impoverished North. But organizers hope that next year they will be able to arrange a joint Kimjang festival to share some of their abundance with Koreans living on the other side of the border.
Youmi Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.