Koreans grimace as celebrated kimchi loses ground to Chinese brands
Khang Hyun-sung in Seoul
South Korea's kimchi manufacturers are being left with a sour taste in their mouths as rising competition from China steals export markets for what is regarded as a Korean national treasure.
Kimchi, the spicy, fermented side dish, usually made of cabbage flavoured with hot chilli powder and garlic, is the closest thing to a national dish in South Korea.
A new report by the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency (Kotra) says China has now overtaken South Korea as the main exporter of kimchi to Japan in the first seven months of this year.
'Such is the popularity of Chinese kimchi that many Japanese are treating the dish as originally Chinese, rather than from its true country of origin, Korea,' said a report by Kotra.
The news is likely to be badly received by traditionalists in Korea who are extremely proud of the dish.
Kimchi is touted for its health benefits, there is a museum dedicated to the countless varieties of kimchi in South Korea, and the dish is even celebrated in a song.
In the next few weeks, in rural and residential areas all over the country, South Korean women will soon be spotted in the open air washing huge piles of Chinese cabbage as part of the kimjang, or kimchi-making season.
However, the number of South Korean women taking part is declining. Increasingly, they are choosing to forego the back-breaking work involved in preparing kimchi and are buying the dish fully prepared from food manufacturers, including those from China.
Chinese manufacturers are competing with cheaper ingredients and lower costs, but one of South Korea's most popular kimchi manufacturers, Doosan, claimed the Korean-made dish was still superior. 'The price might be cheaper, but Chinese kimchi cannot compete with us on taste,' said Doosan's Kim Dong-whan.