Weird Food News

Kimchi shortage in Korea threatens to cause national identity crisis

Korean barbecues have been a hot topic this week. I reviewed Seoul BBQ, 2080 South Havana Street in Aurora, and also wrote about my meal at Sik Gaek in Queens. Although both restaurants feature Korean cuisine, the two dinners could not have been more different.

Except for this: both places served plenty of complimentary kimchi. A Korean meal is simply incomplete without that side dish.

Which helps you understand why people in South Korea are panicking about the kimchi shortage. The price of Napa cabbage, the main ingredient in the fiery, earthy dish, is skyrocketing there, prompting consumers to hoard the stuff and restaurants to do the unthinkable: charge for refills.

As panic sets in, a black market in kimchee is springing up and the Korean government is absorbing costs and relaxing tariff restrictions in order to get affordable Napa cabbage back on the shelves, trying to alleviate the effects of a poor Korean crop that led to a 400 percent price spike. But Koreans are wary about buying from abroad, especially from the Chinese, which is likely where most of the replacement cabbage would come from.

Still, because the thought of a dinner without kimchi is unbearable to most Koreans, they may not have a choice but to buy foreign vegetables -- or risk an identity crisis.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk