Asia, Cars, Culture, Food, Funny, Garden, Summer, Travel

Cabbage Cartel

My hair smells like cabbage.

Actually, everything about me smells like cabbage. 

I’ve gone from Kimchi Princess to Cabbage Patch Kid. 

So, I’ll go ahead and answer the question everyone has been asking. How exactly did I end up surrounded by cabbage on a van from Laos to Cambodia?


Well, the real answer starts back in 2013. I went on a trip to Cambodia then and saw the establishment of the first BMA church there. I became friends with the believers there and have kept up with them since. So, when I found out that we weren’t far from their border here in Laos, I asked if we could go visit.

I have crossed land borders before. We’ve driven to Canada, and that one is pretty easy. We drove from Jordan into Israel. That one was a little bit tougher because of the high security, but still okay. But, as I was told: Laos to Cambodia is a whole different story.

We were told our van would arrive at 8 am to pick us up. Joy had warned me that it would be an “interesting” experience. 8 am and we’re waiting. As I see vans pull up, I ask Joy: is that the one? To which she kept responding, that one looks pretty nice, that one is pretty new.. Which made me wonder what exactly I had gotten myself into. And what exactly our van was going to look like.

Finally, at 8:40 am, it arrived. Looking okay, not bad at all, a little dusty, but that’s to be expected around here. Then, they opened the door.


A Lao-Vietnamese family occupied the first row of seats. As the door opened, they all gave a sort of amused look like: you’re riding in here? The second row was to be occupied by Joy and I… And cabbage. 


So. Much. Cabbage.


The driver gets in the back to start re-arranging and makes just enough room for us. I look at the floor and look at Joy, trying to figure out where to step. And finally, as the driver is getting out, I realize that I’m just supposed to step on the cabbage. Because what else is there to do?


We settle in for the ride. It’s about two hours of pretty good roads to the border. Along the way, I notice, we stopped to hand off some money to a man in a uniform. I thought possibly it was some sort of toll system. So, I asked Joy why we randomly had stopped in the middle of the road. She informed me that these are passenger vans only and not allowed to haul any type of goods. But, our driver has a friend (the man in the uniform) who will look in, make sure we only have passengers (and not 700 pounds of cabbage), take some money, put it in his pocket, and let us pass on by. Seems okay to me. 

About an hour or so in, we stop for a bathroom break. Which looks like this.


We continue on our way, smelling more and more like the produce aisle as we go along. We arrive at the border, where I have to get a Cambodian visa. While I am waiting, I notice the van door has been opened and the driver is ripping into a bag of the cabbage., the one that was at Joy’s feet nearest the door. He hands off six heads of cabbage to a man on a motorbike, who stacks them all in front of him, balancing one on top of the other, and takes off. He starts passing out a few more to the men at the border, which they all happily accept. I finally get all my paperwork filled out, get stamped through, then, we hop back in the cabbage wagon and take off again. 

The roads get more treacherous to navigate as soon as we enter Cambodia. Causing a lot of bouncing around. There are no seat belts, of course, so its hard to anchor yourself to any one thing. We arrive in Stung Treng, which is our transit town where we switch vans. As we unload our stuff at the stop and say goodbye to the cabbage van, all I can think is: what will we be hauling next?

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Farm, Food, Garden

Cabbage Patch Kid

I’ve had a few people ask me since I’ve been home if I’m going to continue to write. And, I’ve thought about it. And, I think I will. Mostly because yesterday was the first day of Spring and we’re starting a garden. In a wagon.

We'll see if they sprout!

Actually, I’m going to keep writing because I like it. And because I feel like I have stories that I want to tell. Whether those stories are interesting enough to read, I’m not sure yet. But, I guess we’ll see.

First seeds of the season

First seeds of the season

Let’s get back to that wagon though. I love to plant things. And, I love to eat things that are good for you. So, a garden is obvious, right? Last year, I went a little overboard and got 8 blueberry plants, 10 raspberry plants, and 6 fruit trees (2 each of pear, apple and peach). The raspberries went crazy and the blueberries fizzled.

Queen Anne yellow and Latham red raspberries

Queen Anne yellow and Latham red raspberries

I also wanted to do sweet potatoes for the first time. There’s that wagon again.

Part of our sweet potato harvest

Part of our sweet potato harvest

This year, we (I) decided it is time to expand. So, my dad got the plow and is graciously working the ground so that I can have a field of melon mounds. And a few more rows of sweet potatoes. And some corn. And a cabbage patch.

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Remember those huge cabbages from Korea I showed you? We bought seeds! Just call me the Cabbage Patch Kid.

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Asia, Food, Travel

Kimchi Princess

It’s probably just me, but I think cabbage gets totally overlooked as a vegetable. It’s like that shy girl in the back of the class who you’ve never really noticed and then one day, she raises her hand and you figure out she’s pretty much a genius and it would probably be wise for you to make her your friend. That’s cabbage to me. It has been culturally adapted to just about every cuisine in the world and it tastes totally different but totally awesome everywhere.

Koreans, I think, have always seen the true potential of cabbage and have been making kimchi with it for centuries. Traditionally, kimchi has been made, then stored in big pots, buried in the ground, and allowed to ferment for a really long time. In case I’ve lost you already, kimchi is a deliciously fermented, spicy “condiment” that Koreans eat with everything. Literally, they eat it with every meal: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Typically, kimchi is made in November and December, where the matriarchs take a whole day (sometimes more) to make their family’s supply of winter kimchi. They, then, store it in their kimchi refrigerator. Yes, they have a totally separate refrigerator, set at a very specific temperature, just for kimchi. Because, apparently, the whole “bury the pot” practice has kinda fallen to the wayside. Some families make up to 100 cabbages worth of kimchi. But, I think about 10 cabbages worth is a more normal amount, which I am told will last a family of four approximately 6 months.
The new kimchi can be eaten right away, however it grows in flavor as it ferments, so waiting is preferred. Families will have a “back stock” and will actually be eating the kimchi they made a few years ago. I guess it could be considered similar to canning, in that way.

We got the chance to experience the art of kimchi, as we had a sweet friend and her mom volunteer to teach us. As I said before, Koreans see the true potential of cabbage and I think that starts at the seed. I found the biggest cabbage I’ve ever seen and obviously had to take a picture with it. It was literally the size of a watermelon.

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Back to the lesson though. You start with raw cabbage and cut it up into pieces (I guess I should also note, we were making spring kimchi, which is made with smaller cabbage, is a faster process and eaten fresh). The next step, it was emphasized repeatedly in excited Korean, was super important. You have to kill the cabbage with salt. Killing is key here. And, apparently, the type of salt you use will change the overall flavor of your finished product. We were using solar salt (the very best choice, according to our hostess).

Solar Salted

Solar Salted

Once you salt the cabbage, it needs to sit for 2 hours for spring kimchi (12 hours for winter kimchi). In the meantime, we went to a local coffeeshop for bingsu, another Korean favorite.

Strawberry and Injeolmi Bingsu

Strawberry and Injeolmi Bingsu

When we arrived back, the cabbage was dead, rinsed, and ready to be coated. The recipe consists of many ingredients and in many different forms of measure. Let me just hit the high notes for you: baby shrimp, fish sauce, plum wine, corn syrup, Korean red pepper paste, onion or apple, and sesame oil to list a few. Then, all of this gets blended up into a thick paste and spread over the now dead cabbage.

Kimchi: The Final Stage

Kimchi: The Final Stage

Our Final Product

Our Final Product

As weird as it all sounds, it ends up being really good. And surprisingly good for you! Recent studies have shown that in the fermented kimchi, the probiotic benefits outweigh that of which you find in yogurt. So, steam some rice, get some kimchi, and chow down Korean style!

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