Local Celebrity in Namyangju Lee Ha-yeun
Kimchi is a definite soul food to many Koreans. Kimchi master Lee Ha-yeun is devoted to making kimchi (a Korean side dish) into a main element in culinary culture. She believes that this attractive Korean food can captivate the taste buds of foreigners as well. Let’s find out more about her life that has been dedicated to promoting kimchi culture.
Koreans’ Soul Food: Kimchi
The Korean diet has been significantly westernized with many Koreans frequently eating western-style foods. However, kimchi still plays a crucial part in a Korean’s daily meal. Lee Ha-yeun is busy introducing kimchi’s value and attractiveness to more people.
“Kimchi is a soul food to many Koreans. Even though it is a side dish rather than a main dish, kimchi is still a must have menu item to Koreans.”
Born in Iksan, Jeollabuk-do, Lee developed her culinary skills by watching her mother frequently preparing food for several guests. In addition, Lee ran restaurants for 30 years with her great passion for food. She first started a food cart business, selling dumplings. She later developed her business and her Korean restaurant, Bongwoori, was introduced by a popular Korean comic book The Gourmet (Sikgaek).
“My mother’s kimchi was well-known for its great taste. She made salted seafood and ground ingredients by hand using a stone mortar to make tasty kimchi. She made kimchi using an abundance of quality ingredients. When the kimchi was ready, I was the one who delivered it to the neighbors.”
Since Lee learned the kimchi recipes from her mother, it was natural that her kimchi boasted a superb flavor, resulting in numerous requests to buy her kimchi.
A Life that Resembles Kimchi
With a passion for making tasty kimchi, Lee opened a kimchi factory in 2003 but the business failed. However, she was not defeated, instead she dedicated herself to studying kimchi and succeeded in reproducing traditional kimchi.
“Even though the kimchi factory business failed, I didn’t want to give up making kimchi, since giving up meant a failure. I never gave up making kimchi, so I haven’t failed.”
Her dedication and efforts didn’t betray her. She was chosen as Korean Food Master No. 58 in 2014. Prior to that, she had already received several awards such as the grand prize at the Kimchi Expo 2007, the Creative Intellectual Award 2010, and the Presidential Award 2012. After she became the President of the Kimchi Association of Korea in 2018, she became even busier than before. Lee had long dreamt of creating a Kimchi Cultural Museum to help people more accurately understand Korea’s kimchi culture. Furthermore, with the objective of globalizing kimchi, she promotes this traditional Korean food at overseas exhibitions and events.
“Kimchi is my life. I can’t imagine a life without kimchi. I really love my life dedicated to kimchi, and I hope my life will mature like ripen kimchi.”
Lee finds happiness in modesty and tolerance. Hoping her life is full of rich flavors just like kimchi, her life resembles this unique Korean food.
What do you think is the ideal method for globalizing kimchi?
A slow food with several health benefits, kimchi was chosen as one of the world’s five healthiest foods. Hillary Clinton even called kimchi a “magic food.” Even though kimchi is made with ingredients that have strong flavors such as garlic and ginger, kimchi has a balanced flavor. It goes well with sweet potato, rice cake and even bread, not to mention meat and fish. In this regard, we should promote the idea that Koreans’ soul food creates great harmony with bread (a staple food for westerners) so that kimchi can be assimilated into the daily lives of people around the world. In particular, kimchi can be easily localized anywhere in the world, since it can be made with any natural ingredients. This means kimchi has indefinite potential to be globalized. Koreans typically enjoy kimchi made with nappa cabbage or diced radish kimchi since the salty and spicy flavors go well with rice. We can introduce water kimchi to countries where people usually eat bread; and promote white kimchi to countries where people do not like spicy or salty foods. In other words, promoting a certain kimchi that suits the local taste buds will be the right globalization strategy. I believe making kimchi that anybody can enjoy is key to developing kimchi into a food that can be globally savored.
Please tell us the secret of your tasty kimchi.
Quality ingredients as well as great care are required to making tasty kimchi. Like other foods, kimchi made with seasonal ingredients tastes best. Salted seafood is an important ingredient in kimchi, just as traditional pastes and sauces play crucial roles in determining the flavor of Korean food. Further, you need to use natural ingredients without artificial flavors. Kimchi paste is mainly made with five ingredients (garlic, green onions, salted seafood juice, red chili powder and ginger). The ideal ratio between nappa cabbage and kimchi paste is 7 to 3 or 6.5 to 3.5. One might think that putting more paste will make kimchi tastier, but too much is just as bad as having too little. In addition, you need to use rich flavored salty seafood when making kimchi with dark-colored vegetables (e.g., leaf mustard, spring onion, radish leaves and godeulppaegi (bitter lettuce)), whereas you need to use salted shrimp to make diced radish kimchi.
What do you think is the potential and value of kimchi as a cultural tourism content?
I believe kimchi has infinite possibilities as a cultural content. Above all, kimchi is the most representative Korean food. Registered on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Property list, kimchi is a major well-being food, and a growing number of foreigners enjoy kimchi. Kimchi is playing a crucial role in promoting Korean culinary culture. For instance, before Joan in Namyangju was chosen as a Slow City, I ran kimchi-related experience programs and prepared dinner for the review team from Citttaslow International. I think kimchi greatly contributed to the promotion of Namyangju. Likewise, various kimchi-related events are held.
One great example is the Seoul Kimchi Festival hosted by the city of Seoul. Foreigners as well as Koreans are keenly interested in the event and join the festival annually. I believe we need to create a kimchi-themed cultural space where visitors can actually make and try their own kimchi, in order to add value to kimchi.
Kimchi Making Class
If you want to learn Lee Ha-yeun’s kimchi recipe, join a kimchi making class. The kimchi master will demonstrate the process of making kimchi including preparing napa cabbages. You can make your own kimchi and take some home with you. Lee also runs regular cooking classes to share her culinary know-how. Please inquire and make reservations to join the classes.
Healthy Meal Experience
After completing the kimchi or other cooking classes, you can have a conversation with Lee Ha-yeun over healthy Korean meals made with seasonal ingredients. You can also learn about the excellence of kimchi made with fresh seasonal ingredients and become versed in how to prepare healthy meals. Reservations are required.
Seoul Kimchi Festival
Established in 2014, the Seoul Kimchi Festival is held every November. Korean ancestors considered kimjang day, when people gathered to make kimchi for the winter, a festival and party. The Seoul Kimchi Festival aims at preserving the spirit of sharing and aspires to becoming a global cultural festival. For the 2018 festival, Lee Ha-yeun led a special exhibition, presenting 100 kinds of kimchi made with various ingredients. There were also various programs where people could experience and enjoy Korea’s unique culture of kimjang – kimjanggan (kimjang demonstrations and kimchi-making), the kimchi market, and kimchi-themed activity programs for children.
- Seoul Plaza, Mugyo-ro
RECOMMENDED TOURIST ATTRACTIONS
Dasan Heritage Site
Dasan Heritage Site is the location of Dasan Jeong Yak-yong’s birthplace. Born in the area, Dasan returned after 18-years of exile and stayed here until he passed away at his age of 75. The site is comprised of Dasan’s birth home Yeoyudang House, Dasan’s tomb, the Dasan Cultural Center, and the Dasan Exhibition Hall. You can enjoy leisurely walks alongside the river trails.
- Dasan-ro 747beon-gil Joan-myeon, Namyangju-si, Gyeonggi-do
- 09:00-17:00 *Closed on Mondays
Namyangju Organic Theme Park
As the one and only organic theme park in the world, the Namyangju Organic Theme Park tells about the past, present and future of Korea’s organic industries. The theme park consists of several zones: the central zone (the organic museum and nearby convenience facilities); the event zone (including the farmers market); the experience zone where one can learn about and experience organic farming; and the wellbeing zone (an orchard and an eco-friendly garden).
- 881 Bukhangang-ro Joan-myeon, Namyangju-si, Gyeonggi-do
- 09:00~18:00 (last admiddinon)
- 09:00-19:00 on weekends (last admission by 18:00)
- 215-30 Goraesan-ro Wabu-eup, Namyangju-si, Gyeonggi-do