Gimjang Planning Logistics

You’ve been invited to a home Kimjang. Now what? Preparing for your first Kimjang can feel nerve-wracking. Let’s talk about how to prepare and what to expect. Having a general idea of what you are getting into can help the day go a bit smoother for everyone.

What is Jeong (정)

In order to fully understand Gimjang (Kimjang/김장) you may want to study the Korean concept of Jeong (정). Jeong explains the deep feelings and connection that come from going through life together. The concept of Jeong includes both the positive and negative feelings that exist together and how these complexities bind people together.

The way that I understand the concept is that Jeong celebrates how we suffer together, laugh together, work together, and survive together. Although I am not ethnically Korean, I choose to embrace the concept of Jeong. This means that I chose to work, suffer, and celebrate alongside my chosen culture.

When I throw myself into things like Kimjang, I feel Jeong building between myself and the wider culture. The developing Jeong fills my heart from the inside.

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What is Jang (장)

Jang (장) has many meanings in Korea, one of the most common meanings is “sauce”. For Gimjang, they are covering many different things in sauce to preserve them for winter. This means that you don’t only prepare cabbage in the “sauce” but also other seasonal veggies or fruits.

Please note, Kimjang and Gimjang refer to the same thing. During different times in Korean history, this kimchi-making cultural event has been Romanized in different ways.

Watch Home Gimjang Vlogs

While planning to attend Gimjang, we recommend watching many different videos so that you can see different versions of the experience. Each family brings its own recipes and traditions to Gimjang so you can never expect the exact same experience, however, you can gain insight into the commonalities of the experience:

We had no idea what we agreed to when we went to our first Gimjang, and we suspect that made us a bit less helpful, however, everyone made us feel at home anyway.

The Work

Gimjang involves a lot of bending over, moving things from one place to the other, sticking your hands in cold water, mixing massive amounts of things together, and plenty of repetitive tasks.

What to Bring

In order to be ready to work you may need to pack the following items:

  • Rubber gloves that come up to the elbow
  • Rubber boots or shoes that can get wet and dirty
  • Extra warm socks
  • Clothes that can get wet and dirty
  • Apron to protect your clothes
  • Containers to take your kimchi home

In order to make it through two days of washing, moving, tossing, mixing, and rubbing you may want to also consider:

  • hand warmers
  • allergy medication
  • pain medication for headaches or arthritis
  • your own snacks if you have serious food allergies
  • warm hat

The Community

In Korea, sharing remains a huge part of the culture. Bringing some affordable snacks or drinks to share at Gimjang with the hosts feeds the feeling of community. Obviously, your hosts may tell you that you don’t need to bring anything, but they will feel closer to you and feel like you understand them more if you bring something to share.

Note that what you bring to share with the host may end up being shared with everyone who attends the event. This means two things 1) bring enough to share with a group of people and 2) don’t be offended that the host gives the gift to everyone instead of keeping it for themselves alone. This is part of how we bond together here.

Childcare

Since Koreans see Gimjang as a community and family event, kids often attend. However, kids may not always fully participate and may spend their time inside watching movies, doing homework, and playing video games. When attending Kimjang with kids, you want to bring the following:

  • things for them to be entertained
  • extra snacks
  • maybe even blankets and a pillow so they can take a nap

Remember that Gimjang will not feel ‘comfortable.’ It’s a cold wet process. Kids with a low tolerance for personal difficulty may find it challenging to participate in Gimjang. However, kids who love adventure and people may find it a magical experience. We have witnessed both reactions in the past.

The following video may provide a nice introduction to Kimjang for parents and kids:

Kimchi Tupperware

You can find kimchi storage tubs at Big Box Stores, and HomeGoods stores near traditional markets (this is where we get ours). When choosing kimchi storage you want a hearty container, that is not clear, with very strong clips that have zero chance of unsnapping:

This is the perfect kimchi container for a small batch.

It’s also nice if the container has pressed down a level which helps keep the kimchi fermenting nicely as you eat it:

This is not mandatory, but we like it.

Prepare the Fridge for Kimchi

Korean families have kimchi fridges that allow them to keep an entire years worth of kimchi in their homes. A kimchi fridge keeps the kimchi at the ideal temperature and is perfectly sized for the kimchi containers to easily stack.

Kimchi fridge drawer.

As an international resident, you may not have a kimchi fridge. Deciding how much kimchi to bring home will be related to your fridge capacity. Thus, you may need to clear space in your fridge for your kimchi containers. You will need to keep your kimchi at or below 39°F (4°C) for about 3-6 months. As kimchi ages, it becomes better for kimchi jjigae.