Kimchee wars

by on February 24, 2013 at 7:34 am in Books, Food and Drink, History | Permalink

The popularity of kimch’i in Japan greatly stimulated the South kimch’i processing industry.  Ironically, it was Japanese attempts to capitalize on manufacturing kimch’i that inflamed Korean claims to its ‘ownership’.  This dispute, commonly known as the ‘Kimch’i‘ War…began in 1996 when Japan proposed designating kimuchi (the Japanese pronunciation of kimch’i) an official Atlantic Olympic food.  By then Japanese-Korean trade relations were already under stress due to the fact that Japan had already been involved in exporting the Japanese instant version of kimch’i, which lacked the distinctive flavor from the fermentation process.  In response, South Korea filed a case with the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), pat of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, arguing that there was a need to establish an international kimch’i standard.

That is from Cuisine, Colonialism and Cold War: Food in Twentieth Century Korea, by Katarzyna J. Cwiertka.  This is an excellent book on Korean-Japanese relations, the early history of Korean industrialization, and the rise of industrial food, as well as the evolution of Korean food in recent times, all rolled into a scant 237 pp.  A good author can do wonders…

Caitlin February 24, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Kimchi that’s not fermented! As kimchi becomes more mainstream, non-fermented kimchi will definitely have a space in stores. We’ve found that many people prefer “fresher” kimchi.

Ray Lopez February 24, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Korean kimchi to become like Scottish scotch, which cannot be called Scottish whiskey outside of Scotland, due to EU rules? Scotch that, scotch, not whiskey. Food trivia: burning peat in Scotch scotch is to give the liquor flavor, not for fuel.

Kauweloa February 24, 2013 at 7:42 pm

The Korea Food & Drug Administration (KFDA) successful petitioned for the name change in 2012 to actually recognize “Kimchi” cabbage, instead of Chinese cabbage.

Roberto February 24, 2013 at 10:39 pm

Kimuchi is not kimch’i. Kimuchi is slightly peppery flavored hakusai cabbage, or sometimes even lettuce. Real kimch’i is too overwhelming for most Japanese. (Not just Japanese, It takes some getting used to for most people who aren’t raised up on it.) Korean ajumas would make it at home and sell it in plastic bags outside of stations and department stores in the Tokyo area (Chigasaki, for one example) but most likely the customers were folks who knew the difference and wanted kimch’i rather than kimuchi.

Kimch’i can be made from different basic materials but the one we are most familiar with is paekche cabbage ( = bokchoi, or hakusai).

David February 25, 2013 at 2:45 pm

There is plenty of Japanese kimuchi which can be indistinguishable from some Korean kimchi.

There is no such thing as “paekche” cabbage. Maybe you are thinking of “baechu” which is simply the Korean word for Napa cabbage–which also happens to the same thing as hakusai. This is obviously not the same thing as bokchoi.

It is certainly rare, but Korean kimchi can be made from lettuce as well.

On a side note, authors need to stop using the McCune-Reischauer romanization for Korean. It is obsolete and simply quite silly. Just look at the unnecessary apostrophe in kimch’i.

Peter February 25, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Amen, now only if the Hawaiians would get over it also.

john February 25, 2013 at 8:34 pm

“Rolled into a scant 237 pp” should come to, roughly, 207 pages, providing you lightly tamp the book on the edge of the counter, but not tap it straight down.

don wallace February 26, 2013 at 6:43 pm

The Japanese-fication of kimchee played out in Hawaii (no diacriticals here) played out thanks to my wife’s grandfather, Lawrence Kang, who worked with the UH food department to devise a kimchee that would taste more like a crisp Japanese pickle. By the mid-50s he had the top brand in the Islands (Halms, still is, but not in the family anymore) and was exporting to Guam and US military bases. Why would a lighter, shelf-life version of kimchee go over in Hawaii? A Japanese majority population.

Roberto February 27, 2013 at 1:10 am

Yep, I was thinking of baechu, and yup that is the Korean pronunciation for Japanese hakusai (or rather their respective pronunciations for the Chinese characters. I do not speak Chinese, but if bokchoi is other than baechu, I am both mistaken and surprised.

Yep, you are correct, Kimch’i can be made from things other than baechu, as I pointed out.

You are also correct that genuine kimch’i is sold in some Japanese stores. I’m not sure if “plenty” is the right word. N not having conducted a scientific study, I can’t say for sure, but my definite experience is that if you request kimuchi in a Japanese izakaya, you will get the Japanese version. Shop masters, probably correctly, probably think that most customers will be OK with it, while only a few would prefer than stronger real thing.

As for romanization, if you want to pronounce Korean correctly You need to read hangul. For academic purposes it is nice to agree on which romanization to use, but for internet blog comments, I can’t get too excited about it. If you know Korean, and the word in question, you will know which phoneme is intended, otherwise it doesn’t really matter.

Yours truly,


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