“Don’t ask their ages,” Kim warns me.
Kim’s skin-care pitch is part of his mission here in Northern Virginia. He’s the chairman of the 19th annual Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival, which made its first-ever foray outside of South Korea over the weekend to promote the country’s national dish of spicy fermented vegetables (there are hundreds of varieties) as part of the larger, 10th annual Korus Festival, organized by the Korean American Association of the Metropolitan Washington Area.
No doubt indulging America’s nearly neurotic desire to outrun death — and look good while doing so — Kim arrived here to sell us on kimchi’s health benefits. Its high-fiber, low-fat properties. Its good bacteria to help with digestion. Its vitamins A, B and C. Frankly, all of this is gravy to me. Kimchi had me at spicy fermented cabbage.
Besides, Kim might be better off selling Americans on the pure enjoyment of preparing a quick, fresh batch of kimchi. Before the festival opened, organizers had me join the three kimchi masters in donning aprons and plastic gloves and smearing a piquant fermented fish paste all over a head of previously soaked, salted and dried Napa cabbage. I was sandwiched between Ho-Oak Kim on my right and Soon-Ja Kim, president of the Kimchi Association of Korea, on my left. Neither was shy about correcting my faults as a kimchi maker.
The Kims introduced me to the (non-Twitter-based) social engagement of kimchi preparation. After you thoroughly coat each leaf with the fire-brick-red paste — but before you wrap the cabbage in its outer leaf to secure the condiment in place — you can pluck a small pale-yellow blade, roll it up and place the cool-and-fiery bite into a neighbor’s mouth. Soon-Ja and Ho-Oak repeatedly fed me as if I were a hound begging at the table.