There are lots of different things called kimchi. The basic kind usually has napa-type cabbage, hot pepper, garlic, ginger, scallions, salt, fish essence of some kind (could be fish sauce or else juice from boiled fermented small whole fish -- really), sometimes a little sugar, sometimes (depending on the maker) MSG. Other kinds, or just different variations, might include radishes, cucumber, chestnuts, oysters, Korean pears, other types of seafood, no pepper at all, seaweed, etc.
Let us not gloss over this! Someone who has tried kimchee for the first time! Welcome, and savor. OK, I won't be too much of a food nationalist about this, but I am glad you got to try kimchi...but take out kimchi? Hmm. Wait til you try some of the real stuff. The stuff sold in the pint jars in Korean markets will probably be the next level up, but really nothing beats homemade.
Homemade kimchi...Ya take a big ole head of chinese cabbage, and take out the inedible leaves. This is all from observation and not from practice, and since I do not give measurements, I am really telling this for illustrative purposes...I believe the first thing you do with kimchi is apply a mess of kosher salt/sea salt. You then let it sit for a day and then apply what is called "yangnyum", meaning seasoning. Every household in Korea has their own seasoning secret. But basically it includes some variation of seafood based marinade essence (for the lack of a better term) referred to as a "juht." Juht can be made from shrimp, oysters, little itty bitty shrimp --> sea bream?, and some sort of fish. This is different from the fish sauce that you find in Thai cooking. In Juht, the fish, shrimp are part of the sauce...unlike uh "duck" sauce. So back to the cabbage. You take juht, chili powder made from dried chilis, a healthy dose of garlic and other spices such as grated daikon and green scallions, and you scoop this stuff up and put it manually in between the leaves of the cabbage. Let the whole thing sit for a while until the leaves start to pickle, and that is kimchi. I cannot tell you what proportions, I am not sure if anyone has ever bothered to write the measured portions down. But at least now you know what goes into it.
Sorry, I have to go to the fridge now and eat.
PS MSG in kimchee...man, that's depressing. I guess manufacturing kimchee means you have to put this kind of stuff in...That's just really a shame...
re: Michael Yu
Michael, I was particularly interested to read your kimchi post. I really like kimchi and for a long time have sort of made up my own 'blend' depending on what I have in the pantry. I let it rest a good long while. Smells pretty strong too; the worse it smells the better it tastes! But I never did it with the whole leaves of cabbage; I just chop it up. Needless to say, it's a gringo-ized version. Can't wait to try it again using your suggestions. Thanks, Pat
re: Michael Yu
There used to be a Korean website called "Exploring the World of Kimchi". It was absolutely great, gave really detailed descriptions of all the kinds of kimchi, recipes (by region and ingredient) and lots of history. It seems that, at least in English, this site has disappeared. If anyone knows what happened to it, please post.