Kinfolk in Korea

Sunday, October 6, 2013

For a long time, I’ve wanted to create a food-centric event in Korea. Last Saturday, inspired by Kinfolk‘s monthly initiative of gathering in small groups around the world, Sonja and I worked with our friends Yaeri, Sooji, Ji Sun and Sewon to host a fermentation workshop at a meditation retreat center Chungju, about two hours south of Seoul. We put our heads together with Mi Soon, Irene, and Bora, the women who run the impressive food program at Ongdalsam. Ongdalsam is a meditation retreat center in the mountains with the perfect backdrop and matching philosophy for what we’d hoped to create.

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Mi Soon Nim walked us around the grounds of Ongdalsam, lifted the lids and pulled the paper shields away from heavy earthenware pots, urging us to dip our fingers into soy sauce that had been fermenting since 2007. She fed us samples of her pickled garlic, plum juice, and gochujang. Mi Soon is nimble and soft-spoken at first, but put her in front of a group and she shines.

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Days before the workshop, Mi Soon and Bora fermented a gigantic batch of soybeans so they were pungent and sticky. Called cheonggukjang, these beans are either loved or hated, and I think it was Mi Soon’s objective to make lovers out of all of us. Which she did. We buried them inside sesame-covered rice balls, mixed them in a salad with 3-year old kimchi, and stuffed them inside soft envelopes of tofu with mild, pickled pepper. Then we sheathed a giant batch of yeolmu with minced ginger, garlic, and red pepper and turned it into kimchi. At the end of the day, we set a long table with tea lights and platters of pickled vegetables, steamed white rice, and the foods we’d just finished making. Before we knew it, it was time to catch the bus back to Seoul.

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Food can’t connect with the same complexity as shared history, tragedy, or triumph, but along with a compulsion for safety and intimacy, the traditions we build, honor, and share through food are the bona-fide common threads between us. There are a dozen ways to share the company of others, though probably none better than the act of breaking bread. And it’s always made better by the combined effort of many.

Sincere thanks to Mr. Godowon and the whole team at Ongdalsam for making the workshop so special.

All photos above are courtesy of Jun Michael Park. Photo below courtesy of Ongdalsam.

Kinfolk Group



  • Kathryn

    Sounds (and looks) like a fantastic event, Jacqui. My mouth is watering for Kimchi made with such care!

  • Destiny

    AMAZING! Of course you’re involved in making such cool gatherings happen. Also, love Kinfolk Mag! Great photos (and words) as usual.

    • admin

      Thanks, D! There’s a Kinfolk gathering in Charlotte this month, though that’s probably a bit of a drive for you, eh?

  • janis

    these are beautiful photos!

    • admin

      Thanks, Janis. Jun captured the day so well. I’ve had the fortune to spend time at your site, also–your images are beautiful. Loved your take on Malaysia, especially.

  • Rika

    very nice gathering… and love all those beautiful pictures. Is there any chance for another gathering in Seoul? would love to join~ ^^

    • Jacqui

      Hi Rika! Nothing planned as of late, but I will keep your email if that changes. Thanks so much for your interest.^^