I recently received a few boxes of my favourite Korean dish, geotjeori , or “fresh kimchi”, a refreshing salad consisting of napa cabbage and scallions, mixed in a dressing made from a bewildering variety of ingredients such as garlic, sesame oil, fish sauce and red chilli pepper flakes. Geotjeori isn’t available on the menus of most Korean restaurants in Hong Kong, nor is it often served as part of the banchan , that thrilling mini-smorgasbord of side dishes that is an indispensable part of the Korean eating-out experience. To be honest, I prefer geotjeori to the ubiquitous baechu kimchi , the fermented, sour-and-fiery napa cabbage kimchi that’s the most well known and popular among all Korean pickles. It all reminded me of the “kimchi war” that erupted in 2020 , soon after China received certification from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for pao cai , a pickled vegetable dish from Sichuan province. China’s Global Times claimed that the recognition set “an international standard for the kimchi industry led by China”. What do Chinese eat on birthdays? Eggs, noodles, ‘shoutao’ cakes on steroids This caused an uproar among South Koreans, who accused the Chinese of appropriating Korean culture. An online war broke out between those who subscribe to the more toxic form of nationalism, with vicious slurs thrown across the ether. Even after the Global Times clarified that the controversy was caused by a “misunderstanding in translation”, where “ pao cai ” had been erroneously translated as “kimchi” and that they were very different things, the online warfare continued. It is true that pao cai boasts an ancient antecedent: the earliest written record of pickled vegetables in China can be traced back over 3,000 years to King Wu Ding of the Shang dynasty. However, it’s quite a stretch to say that Korean kimchi originated in China, as some Chinese nationalists churlishly contend. The low-carb diet is no recent fad. China’s version dates back 2,000 years Instead, it is likely that the pickling traditions of different peoples – Chinese, Europeans, Indians, Koreans, Japanese, Southeast Asians and so on – emerged independently from one another out of a universal need to preserve foods for lean times. Some Korean nationalists have also been so blinded by their rage that they froth at the mouth in response to any perceived slight from mainland China, even when none was intended. For example, they accused the Chinese of cultural theft when a Chinese athlete sported hanbok , the Korean traditional dress, at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winer Olympics in February, forgetting that ethnic Koreans are one of the recognised minorities in China, and that costumes of other ethnic minorities were also on display in that moment. The quarrel unleashed by the mistranslation of pao cai might have been averted if the Chinese were more ready to render the Romanised names of their foods based on their native sounds, instead of trying to find false equivalents in non-Chinese languages. There is either “braised pork with X” or “Chinese-style Y”, where Y is the name of a better-known non-Chinese dish, as if it is an ersatz Chinese version of “the real thing”. In a world of kimchi, tempura, pho and tiramisu, why must pao cai be called something else other than just pao cai ?