South Korea is taking its kimchi war with China to the next level, enlisting a slew of foreign diplomats in Seoul to attest to the fact that the Koreans’ national dish is, in fact, Korean.
The feud has its roots in what many South Koreans say has been a concerted campaign of culinary appropriation by their larger and more powerful neighbor concerning the pungent dish of pickled cabbage.
China’s state-controlled press claimed a victory of sorts in December when the Swiss-based global food standard regulator appeared to select paocai, a Chinese first cousin of kimchi, as the benchmark for what all such fermented vegetable dishes — including kimchi — must display.
China’s U.N. ambassador escalated the fight with a Jan. 3 social media video praising the virtues of his “homemade kimchi” as “super tasty.”
South Korean online posters, who have been following the kimchi clash closely, questioned why a top diplomat for a foreign power was singing the praises of Korea’s signature food.
The Korean Culture and Information Service has now struck back, preparing do-it-yourself kits of cabbage and spices to dozens of foreign ambassadors posted to Seoul, inviting them to record their efforts to make good old-fashioned South Korean kimchi.
The English-language Korean Times reported 18 embassies took up the offer and at least three — Hungary, Denmark and Belgium — have posted videos online of their efforts to make the dish.
Danish Ambassador to South Korea Einar H. Jensen posted a photo and a video of his kimchi-making experience, helpfully titling his post: “The Taste of Korea: Kimchi.”
“It looks great. I look forward to tasting it,” the Danish envoy said, while noting he will observe the week-long delay needed to allow the cabbage to properly mature.
Commentators in China‘s state-controlled press have said the South Koreans’ fears are overblown, while subtly noting that nearly half of the store-bought kimchi in South Korea is imported from China.