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The politics of kimchi

The politics of kimchi

South Korea runs a “kimchi deficit”, importing far more than it exports

South Korea runs a “kimchi deficit”, importing far more than it exports

Ella Hill | August/September 2018

A garlicky fermented cabbage dish with an aroma like wet socks may not sound too appetising, but most Koreans are crazy about kimchi. The dish is typically made with cabbage, spices and fermented fish for a briny tang. The national fare of both North and South Korea, it’s ubiquitous at meals throughout the peninsula, served as a side dish, stuffed into dumplings or tossed with fried rice.

Fermentation in the Korean peninsula dates back to the first century. Yet despite a boom in fermented foods elsewhere, the market for Korean-made kimchi is less robust. In recent decades Japan and China have developed a taste for the dish and flooded the market with cheap imitations. This has earned the wrath of Koreans, who say the new varieties can’t be called kimchi because they aren’t fermented. But South Koreans have not put their money where their mouths are. The country now runs a “kimchi deficit” of $47.3m, importing far more than it exports. Though every South Korean woman is expected to know how to make the dish, many opt for shop-bought kimchi which is often cheaper than making your own.

There are almost as many recipes for kimchi as there are makers. All include the same core ingredients: whole heads of napa cabbage, chopped daikon radishes, chilli powder, crushed ginger and garlic, fish sauce, fermented shrimp and plenty of salt. First halve, wash and salt the cabbages. Leave for two hours before rinsing well. Mix the remaining ingredients into a thick paste and spread it onto each cabbage leaf. Pack the cabbage tightly into a jar and let it sit for a couple of days to ferment. Then eat it like a Korean – with breakfast, lunch and dinner.