Los Angeles Times

The profound comfort of kimchi

Several years ago on a drive home with my mom, my physical being and existence came into question when an unsecured jar of tongbaechu kimchi in the back of her 1995 Chevrolet Astro van was jostled loose by an abrupt stop.

The gallon-sized glass jar, packed tightly with whole napa cabbage kimchi and all its juices, ricocheted off the back of the van and was sent barreling through a gantlet of rear-row seats, before shattering at the base of the center console.

I was 10 and prone to learning things the hard way, so I rushed to save the kimchi. My hand reached for the heap of cabbage, red pepper flakes and fermented salted shrimp. Instead, my right thumb met the sharp edge of a broken shard of glass.

My blood ran thick, dark and red. It mixed with the sanguine flow of the fermented mass. When I sucked the blood from the wound, I tasted only kimchi, and in my anxiety-addled mind, I wondered: "How much of me is me, and how much of me is kimchi?"

Kimchi and other iconic foods can have that effect on a person. These are the beloved dishes that have been exalted to such a degree that they can be as much a part of a collective identity as they are a part of a

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