A Box of Cabbage and a Newly Minted Ajumma

“Hello, Ajumma One, this is Ajumma Two,” said Diana over the phone.

“Ajumma Two, I have a box of cabbage.”

Autumn is kimchi-making season in Korea. I’ve been wanting to make kimchi for a month or so now and decided to do so this weekend. At Good Man’s advice, I invited Diana and Min Gi over for a Sunday kimchi-making session.

Saturday, Good Man and I went shopping for the ingredients. I picked up four cabbages and headed over to the housewares section to get some charcoal (to absorb the scent of the kimchi). I asked the ajumma in housewares for charcoal in Korean. She didn’t understand me, so I explained I needed it for kimchi.


She understood and showed me two different boxes of charcoal. “This one is cheaper for more, you buy this.” My kind of woman! She spied the four heads of cabbage in our cart and said, “No, you can get a box of cabbage. Go ask, it’s cheaper.”

OK, she said the magic word: cheaper.

We were unsure of what kind of cucumbers we needed for the kimchi and I figured she’d know, so I asked, and she went on about how I had the right kind and what to do. Entirely in Korean.

We put the cabbage back and I asked the cashier for a box of cabbage in Korean. She looked at me and nodded knowingly before saying in Korean, “Are you making kimchi? Oh, you like kimchi? Kimchi is so delicious. Kimchi is so healthy. Wait for a minute, please…”

Usually when I speak Korean to the employees of HMart, the employees look surprised and humor me, but yesterday? Yesterday was different. It’s like buying a box of cabbage to make kimchi made me cross a threshold and now I’m one of them and thus it’s completely appropriate to speak Korean to me.

And how big is a box of cabbage? Our box ended up being nine heads of Napa cabbage for $12. We’re going to be making a lot of kimchi.

A Box of Cabbage