Cycle 13 – Item 318
19 (Sat) November 2022
-Changgok, Sujeong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-
with the Family, LJI
Out of nowhere, mid-afternoon, W announced that her friend LJI would be coming over in the evening to cook dinner for us. The visit itself was somewhat unusual, as people in Korea don’t hang out at each other’s houses, unless they’re really close; while W herself is close to LJI, I haven’t seen her since our wedding in 2006; in any case, it’s very peculiar for a guest to do the cooking.
Baechu (배추) is a vegetable aka napa cabbage aka Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis. In Korean cuisine, it’s most commonly associated with kimchi, which by default is made with baechu. Arguably the most important vegetable, also the most highly eaten at 47 kg annual per capita consumption in 2021 (followed by onions at 32 kg) – approximately 130 g per day, about the amount of a daily kimchi portion.
DID YOU KNOW:
- “Napa” is a Japanese term meaning “vegetable leaf.”
- “Baechu” derives from the Chinese “白菜,” which means “white vegetable” and would be pronounced in Korean as “baekchae.”
- “白菜” is pronounced “bokchoy” in Cantonese.
- Bokchoy is an entirely different thing (see for example 4.297 Bokchoy in Oyster Sauce).
- In Cantonese cuisine, napa cabbage is called “siuchoy (紹菜),” which means “connected vegetable.”
- Though similar in sound and definition to baechu, paocai (泡菜) is a broad category of pickled vegetable, popular in Sichuanese cuisine, sometimes involving napa cabbage.
- In 2020, a diplomatic/cultural/culinary controversy erupted (in Korea) when the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) promulgated regulations for making paocai, which certain Chinese media outlets then attempted to apply to kimchi (even though the ISO documentation clearly states that the standard “does not apply to kimchi”), thus claiming ownership of kimchi – despite the outright absurdity of the claim, Koreans were predictably outraged.
- In the Philippines, napa cabbage is called “pechay baguio,” the “pechay” part deriving (presumably) from the same Chinese characters as “baechu” – Chinese culture has strong historical influence in the country.
The baechu joen was amazing. Until this evening, I had never experienced it before, never even considered that it could be a thing. Using only the inner leaves – sometimes parboiled and used for wraps in other applications (see for example 12.167 Bossam) – the jeon was tender and sweet, further enhanced by the caramelization of the batter. I will definitely add this to my repertoire.
(See also HANSIK)