Yeah I honestly don’t know exactly what the porridge does. I’e heard that it allows for more fermentation (more food for the bugs) and also that it helps bring all the seasonings together. I wish there was someone who could provide some science and taste tests because I tend to be distrusting of hand-me-down knowledge.
Same thing with fish sauce and shrimp and things like that. You hear people say things like “you have to use xyz fish sauce and abc seafood” but I honestly don’t know enough to tell you. What I do know is that you should be able to make perfectly tasty kimchi without any of these things.
My mom though, swears that for the best kimchi you have to add live shrimp, like this:
Most people seem to agree that you should have both fermented shrimp and fish sauce in your kimchi though. I think fermented shrimp is a cool condiment to have regardless, but if you’re just making it casually I don’t know how necessary it is. The cool thing is that you have a baseline now, so when you do add the shrimp you’ll know the difference.
There’s all sorts of other weird stuff that goes into kimchi in regional variations, oysters are very common, some people put in fresh fish or squid type things as well. I’ve even seen someone throw in an entire raw slab of pork belly in it. You’ll also see vegetation like mustard greens and Chinese celery. In some parts they’ll put in cilantro too (which, btw, if you’re like me and can never finish a bundle of cilantro before it goes bad… it’s great as kimchi).
I really appreciate your “make it with what I got” attitude though, try it different ways and you’ll get a better understanding of the food.
One thing you must do the next time though - no negotiation on this one - have your kimchi fresh with some pork belly. To me this is the single best part of kimchi making. This is the real bossam, not the stuff that David Chang sells.
Oh, 1 last thing. IMO the single best way to enjoy kimchi in its fullest glory is in seaweed rolls. Get some Japonica/Cal Rose rice. Buy yourself one of those seasoned seaweed packets. Seaweed, warm rice, piece of kimchi. Roll it up and in your mouth. It does not get any better than that.