South Koreans furious about China’s claim to kimchi

A spat is raging this week over a Chinese state tabloid’s claim that China had “led” the development of an international standard for paocai, or pickled vegetables. In South Korea, the claim was seen as misleading because, in the Chinese language, paocai also refers to kimchi — the fermented cabbage dish that plays an integral role in Korean cuisine.

It wasn’t clear whether the ambiguity was unintentional or an example of the trolling for which the tabloid, Global Times, is famous. But it prompted ripostes from South Korean officials and newspapers, along with a slew of barbed social media comments about the finer points of pickled cabbage.

The South Korean Agriculture Ministry was quick to dismiss Chinese claims, insisting that kimchi is not merely fermented cabbage but a central part of the nation’s food culture and that the industrial standards for kimchi were recognized by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization as long ago as 2001. 

In addition, the ministry pointed out, the laborious and time-honored tradition of making kimchi — a process known as “kimjang” that involves washing and salting vegetables, saucing them with garlic, red peppers, and cured fish before burying the concoction underground in clay pots — was designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013.