Kimchi is to Korea what Potatoes are to Ireland. It is an absolute neccesity. It is a part of their culture, a part of their lives and they would be lost without it. Now, thanks to bad weather and sky-rocketing prices Korea is on the brink of a Kimchi Crsisis. Napa cabbages and Radish, the two main ingredients to make Kimchi, are in high demand.
The price of the precious vegetable has climbed over fourfold over the last few weeks, from about 2,000 won up to 15,0oo won or more for a single head of cabbage. Queues of up to an hour long can be seen at the local farmers markets in central Seoul, as women wait patiently in line to buy the imported Chinese cabbage at a reduced price. 262.6 tons of Napa cabbage, the first batch of a 1,500-ton deal, has been imported from China to ease the shortage of the staple vegetable dish. The shortage has pushed the price too high for some customers to justify buying it while other people are buying it in bulk because they simply can’t live without it.
When I asked my boss’s wife what she would do without Kimchi she replied, “I can’t imagine eating a meal without Kimchi.” “It’s a part of my life, I think I would die without it”, she laughed. I can see where she is coming from. In Korea,Kimchi is served with every meal, similar to our love for Potatoes in Ireland.
Restaurants usually give it away as a side dish for free, although in recent weeks some places feel the need to think twice about this, and charge a nominal fee. Last week, when a friend and I went out for dinner in Munsan, the chef came to check if we wanted Kimchi or not with our meal, so that it would not be wasted. We did the right thing and said no, saving the pungent cabbage for people who actually like the taste!
According to some newspapers, there have have been reports of cabbage rustling in rural areas, which is pretty crazy if you think about it and I also heard a man got arrested for stealing a few heads of the much coveted vegetable!
My boss says the governement and a huge river reclaimation project they have been working on is also to blame. The project, which involves reclaiming much of the land around Koreas major rivers and setting up a canal system, greatly supported by korea’s rich businesses, has meant the land where vegetables used to be grown is no longer available.
Korea’s population is ever increasing but the land mass is remaining the same, thus there simply isn’t enough space for Koreans to grow enough food to feed their 40 million odd population.
The Kimchi shortage, in my opinion, could actually be a blessing in disguise. The huge levels of consumption of the spicy side dish had lead to mass cases of stomach cancer amoung the Korean elderly. The cabbage, which is fermented in hot red chillies, is eaten by kids from a very young age who contibue to eat it up to 3 times a day for the rest of their lives.
The acidity in the food is extremely bad for them and should really only be eaten in small doses, not daily with every meal. Although realistically, cabbage or no cabbage, the Koreans will no doubt find substitute such as radish or cucumber to mix with their spicy chillies which they continue to eat religously.