Sake Gumi

My wife and I moved to São Paulo a few months ago. Now that we're here, I realize what it takes to get situated: mountains of documents, waking up at 4am to stand in line, passport translation, a whole lot of bureaucracy, and patience. After the document pile-up game, we've finally found our own apartment.

However, before we leave the nest, I must pay homage to the people that took us in for over three months: my amazing Korean in-laws. And to do this, there is no better way than to raid their fridge and figure out why every meal since the first dinner I've had has been so damn good (and on more than one occasion hit my intestine like a punch in the gnards).

My cunhada (sister-in-law), describes Korean food as “spicy, but not like Mexican food; Korean spices stick to you and follow you around for the next few days.” At any of our meals, it is not uncommon to find Brazilian dishes paired with a bowl of kimchi (pre-cut with scissors), and Korean and Brazilian rice with a side of seaweed within arm's reach; exemplifying both assimilation and tradition on the same table.

While snooping around their icebox, I could not find kimchi anywhere, a peculiar oddity for a Korean-Brazilian home. It just wasn't there. They have Brazilian beans, Japanese tofu, all the ingredients to make my morning ham and cheese misto quente, mixed rice, assorted veggies, and fruits for all the juice.








This fridge was lacking something. Are they really Korean? No kimchi? Like a nun without vows, this Korean family was missing their kimchi. Yet, the smell of kimchi attacked the senses. Even the blind could hone-in on a jar upon first inhale. Every night it was on the table, but it was not stinking in their fridge.

Upon asking my wife, I was looking in the wrong place (as usual). Turns out that not only did they have kimchi, but they had an entire separate refrigerator dedicated to the red, angry, spicy cabbage. When I lifted the lid to this fridge, I found tupperware of it stacked waste high.


Why the segregated kimchi fridge? The wife replied, “Because the stuff stinks like hell and it could potentially ruin the non-stink food in the other fridge.”

But of course.



This amazing and beautiful family I have married into migrated here after the Korean War and have successfully adapted and adjusted to Brazil. They are a culture within a culture. Thankfully, they make these adjustments in the kitchen; blending foods and making it work. And luckily for me, there will always be a fridge dedicated to kimchi.

*Bryan lived in Tokyo for several years before moving to São Paulo with his wife. His primary mode of transportation is his bike.
Column: Fridgin Out


  • Bryan! Welcome. Great post. I have heard about the infamous “other fridge” dedicated to kimchi. At my mom’s house, there is a dedicated fridge to beer since my mom’s husband is a beer enthusiast.

    yoko on

  • I love it when cultures mix. And I’m very impressed by the fridge used solely to store kimchi. Genius.

    sakura on

  • Kayoko, Thanks. I’m up for madness.
    Yamahomo- I encourage you to give it a try. I have been thinking about pickles lately.
    Yoko- a beer fridge sounds pretty incredible. I remember a friend of ours, Richard, had his own fancy wine fridge.

    Bryan on

  • This is genius. I am pretty hungup on kimchi right now (as I have this theory that it is why Korean women have such youthful, shiny, gorgeous skin— I’m sure of it!), and I have several kinds in my fridge. But yah, it’s a STINKATHON whenever I open the fridge. Oy.

    WELCOME, BRYAN! You ready to join the madness?

    kayoko on

  • My friend’s parents bought a house where Korean family used to live. Not only they had a nice sized indoor grill in the center of the kitchen (vent right on top of course), full fridge dedicated to kimchi, right next to regular fridge. Apparently it took them about a month of daily bleaching to get rid of the smell. I was thinking about making kimchi, but I should reconsider…

    Yamahomo on

  • I had Nico read your entry and we’re looking forward to a punch in the gnards when we visit Brazil.

    Karin on

  • Great post Bryan! I’m missing kimchi but I miss you and Catarina more! Can’t wait to visit you some day!

    Kate on

  • Bryan,
    Do you know where I can buy (pre-made) Kimchi in São Paulo? Liberdade maybe? Thanks!!
    um abraço,

    Liz on

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