OSAKA — While the nation is gripped by Olympic fever, Shigemitsu Nishihara in Ikuno Ward here is looking forward to the 2002 World Cup to be cohosted by Japan and South Korea as an event to boost bilateral relations and to promote his hometown.
Nishihara, 42, is the owner of a kimchi home delivery firm in an area that has one of the largest concentrations of ethnic Koreans in Japan.
As a third-generation Korean resident in the country, he wanted not only to sell Korean food but also to show visitors to the town how kimchi is made and what Korean cuisine is all about.
He subsequently opened Kimchi Gallery as a place where visitors are welcome to observe how the pickled vegetables are actually made and even to participate in the spicy process.
“With the increasing interest in Korean food recently, and kimchi in particular, Ikuno can be promoted as a tourist spot so that its image can be improved,” he said. “If many visitors to the 2002 World Cup from around Japan and other parts of the world come here, our children can be proud of the town.”
Nishihara said he opened the gallery in June as a means to attract more visitors to Ikuno, where around a quarter of the population is Korean. “Ikuno is famous for Korea Town, where so many shops and restaurants offer Korean food,” he explained.
“But there is a lack of other information such, as how kimchi developed into its current taste and how nutritious Korean food is. If we continued just selling kimchi, the town would remain only a shopping area for ethnic food, not a tourist spot.”
At the gallery, visitors can observe the way Korean women make kimchi. First, Chinese cabbages are cut in half and immersed in salted water. More salt is rubbed on each of the leaves, which are then left overnight. Following this, the cabbage is washed with water to remove excess salt and left to drain for five hours before the vital seasoning stage.
A special spice mix called “yannyon” provides the basis for the kimchi flavor, although each home and shop offers subtle variations on the yannyon theme. At Kimchi Gallery, Nishihara blends three kinds of chili powder, from South Korea, China, and Japan, with garlic, sugar, sardine extract and a lot of opossum shrimps.
The red yannyon paste is then rubbed onto the cabbage. “Real kimchi cannot be made by machines because of this process, and it is really a time-consuming job,” said Nishihara’s wife, Tokiko, one of five workers at the gallery.
Even without booking, visitors can try their hand at some yannyon rubbing — provided they buy what they make. The price is 1,000 yen per kg of kimchi.
Once the paste has been applied, the cabbage is then fermented, with the decision of when to eat it left at the individual’s own discretion.
“The longer it ferments, the more sour it becomes,” Nishihara said, noting Koreans tend to prefer sour kimchi.
The gallery holds a cooking lesson for kimchi and other homemade Korean food once a month for 10 people. Classes are fully booked until the end of this year.
Meanwhile, display boards in the gallery tell “the story of kimchi,” with an explanation of its benefits for the human body, as well as the roles and history of chili and garlic in Korean cuisine. This story can also be viewed on the gallery’s Web site at www.kimuchibussan.com
Although Korean cuisine is often associated in Japan with barbecued food, Nishihara hopes visitors will notice the importance of vegetables in homemade Korean cooking and that kimchi is the best part of it.
“This town should attract a lot of attention as the World Cup approaches, because the event is to be cohosted by Japan and South Korea, and Ikuno has a large population of Korean residents,” he said.
“I want to be ready for this occasion and be prepared for the arrival of many more visitors.”
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