Kimchi is easily Korea’s most famous dish. Some form is served at the majority of Korean meals, and the fermented cabbage banchan has even made it into most American supermarkets in some fashion. But there’s a limiting factor to it for some people, and that’s the fact that most of it is on the spicy side. So how do Korean families get children to get accustomed to the national Korean dish? Huffington Post published a primer kids and spicy foods, offering tips about when and how to teach children about fiery flavors. It reminded me of how I eased into this quintessential Korean food growing up, thanks to my mom.
It all boils down to baby steps. As you’d imagine, you don’t just serve your child a bowl full of hot sauce. You gradually introduce your kid to spicy flavors little by little. In my case, and the way a lot of Korean mothers get kids into it, is by keeping a little bowl of water on the table.
If mom was encouraging me to eat a piece of kimchi, and she was afraid it’d be too spicy for me, all she would do is take a little piece and dip it into that water. She’d wiggle it around until all the red flecks of chile pepper came off. While the result was obviously a much milder version of kimchi than the fully seasoned version, kimchi has a very powerful acidic flavor, so most of its punchiness remained—just not the heat part.
As I grew into my young adult years, if a piece of kimchi was too spicy for me, I’d take a slightly different approach and give it a tiny dip into my portion of whatever soup we were eating that day. Korean meals often come with a bowl of soup or stew on the side. If it was a mild soup, I could wash off a little of the heat into my soup, where it’d be diluted enough for me not to notice, and then the kimchi would be a little tamer. Win win.
Of course, mom doesn’t wash my kimchi for me anymore, but on the rare occasion a batch of kimchi is pushing my limits for some reason, it’ll reflexively take a quick bath in my soup before I eat it with a mouthful of hot sticky white rice.
So if your child has any interest in the kimchi you’re eating, but you’re afraid it’s too spicy for them, just go grab a tiny bowl and fill it with water. You might find that you just unlocked your kid’s lifetime love of a brand new food.