Netflix’s K Food Show strand has already introduced us to Korea as ‘A Nation of Broth’. But it’s also, as co-host Mimi tells us, A Nation of Kimchi.
Episode one of two (available now) sees the singer joined by cartoon artist Huh Young-man and actor Ryu Soo-young for a trip to the island of Jangsando. We might reasonably assume they’ll attempt to explain the dish’s history and ubiquity.
Instead, our intrepid trio squelch around on a muddy beach, hunting small crabs and octopus, the latter of which we later see getting chopped up and lobbed into a vivid red paste (the crabs go in, and occasionally are consumed, live).
With the show evidently not designed for an export market (“I don’t want to share this with non-Koreans,” says Huh of his meal at one point), there’s no attempt to explain what kimchi actually is. The uninitiated viewer is instead left to piece it together from occasional references to what are presumably key ingredients.
Our gang decamp to the city of Namyangju, where they try a refreshingly chilled cucumber version for summer, also featuring chives, pears, radish and garlic. It’s a far cry from the autumn serve of gizzard shad fish, or the winter warmer of pheasant.
Visits to “city of mustard kimchi” Yeosu, a remote temple and an adventurous restaurant further underline kimchi’s significance and mind-boggling versatility.
And we do eventually get a little history: Koreans have been eating fermented veg and seafood for up to 2,000 years, apparently, with chilli powder only introduced after the discovery of the New World in 1492.
Charismatic Mimi and co eat with gusto, and the food is never less than intriguing. But the show will likely bewilder beginners.