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The napa cabbage is a variety of Chinese cabbage native to the Beijing region of China. Since its origin, this barrel-shaped, mild and slightly sweet cabbage has spread across the world. Now, people across the globe commonly use it as an integral part of their different and unique cultural cuisine.
In particular, the introduction of napa cabbage to North and South Korea heavily influenced the people and cooking culture. At the time of the introduction, the two countries were not yet divided. As a result, at the time, napa cabbage shifted the food culture in both North and South Korea in the same manner. Here, we will dive into its influence and importance in Korean cooking culture!
Napa Cabbage in Korean Culture:
It is strongly believed that the napa cabbage originated as a result of the centuries-long natural hybridization of bok choy from southern China and turnip from northern China. Over time, once it became a popular ingredient in China, the cabbage spread to other East Asian countries.
While there are differing accounts, most accept that the cabbage made its way to the Korean peninsula in the 13th century, where people named and referred to it as ‘baechu’ (배추). Then, it continued to spread throughout the Southeast Asian countries in the 15th century. Then, finally, it was introduced to Japan in the 19th century. From there, the use of napa cabbage spread throughout the world–You may have heard of it referred to as wombok in Australia, won bok in New Zealand, and Chinese cabbage in many other western countries.
Since its introduction to Korea, napa cabbage has become essential to North and South Korea’s cultural cuisine. Most famously, it became the main ingredient in the well-known national dish of South Korea: kimchi. Not beyond the use of napa cabbage in kimchi, people often use it in steamed, boiled, fried, pickled, and braised dishes.
Korean Foods Using Napa Cabbage (Baechu):
In South Korea, people commonly use napa cabbage to make popular dishes. Below, we list some of the most common ways people use it in Korean cuisine.
Examples of Baechu in Kimchi:
- Baechu Kimchi (배추김치): Outside of South Korea, people refer to this type of kimchi as ‘cabbage kimchi’ or simply ‘kimchi.’ This is probably the most famous type of Korean banchan (side dish) outside of the Korean peninsula. To make this dish, you ferment napa cabbage with other ingredients such as radish, green onions, and gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder).
- Nabak Kimchi (나박김치): Nabak kimchi is a type of water kimchi. To make this liquid-based kimchi, you combine different types of vegetables and fruit before fermenting it in a brine. Often, people include napa cabbage as one of the vegetable ingredients in this banchan.
- Baek Kimchi (백김치): In English, you translate this into ‘white kimchi.’ Unlike many types of kimchi, you do not add gochugaru to this dish. Instead, you ferment the ingredients without the added spicy ingredient! I recommend this variety of kimchi for those who cannot handle any level of spice.
Examples of Baechu in Other Foods:
- Baechu Jeon (배추전): In Korean ‘jeon’ refers to a type of savory fritter or pancake dish using different ingredients. ‘Baechu jeon’ is made by coating napa cabbage leaves in a batter and pan-frying it.
- Bossam (보쌈): ‘Bossam’ refers to a traditional Korean meal made by placing boiled or steamed pork and other ingredients in cabbage wraps. Usually, people eat this dish when people gather to make their familial kimchi at home.
Where to Buy Napa Cabbage:
While you can often buy napa cabbage throughout the year, it starts appearing regularly in grocery stores during the late fall months. As a cold-weather crop, it is best eaten in the late fall, winter, and early spring. The cold weather brings out the sweetness of the vegetable. Out of season, you may find that they turn bitter instead.
While you can often find napa cabbage in a well-stocked grocery store, it is not always guaranteed. Instead, for larger and cheaper napa cabbages, try shopping at your local Asian market.
If you plan on cooking Korean food, such as kimchi, I recommend buying a cookbook. Maangchi’s cookbooks have detailed instructions for making delicious Korean food. I also The Korean Vegan is releasing a cookbook! You can preorder it on Amazon!
We Hope You Enjoyed Learning About Baechu (Napa Cabbage)!
In the end, we hope you enjoyed learning about Baechu. If so, let us know in the comment section below. Also, what do you usually make if you cook with napa cabbage?
If you would like to read more about cooking, you can find further recipes on our blog. We listed some of our favorite Carving A Journey Korean recipes below! For reference, many recipes are influenced by our blended Korean and Southern heritage.
Korean Ingredient Articles:
- What are Perilla Leaves (Kkaennip)?
- Dangmyeon (Sweet Potato Glass Noodles)
- Gochugaru (Korean Pepper Powder)
- Korean Soy Sauce: What Should I Buy?
- Gluten-Free Gochujang Brands; And
- Gluten-free Doenjang Brands
Further Carving A Journey Korean Recipes:
- Korean Sweet Potato Latte (Goguma Latte)
- Greek Momo Recipe (Korean Breakfast Trend)
- Tteokkochi (Korean Rice Cake Skewers); And
- Jumeokbap (Handmade Korean Rice Balls)
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