“Kimjang” is the traditional practice of pickling kimchi for the cold winter months, now protected on UNESCO’s intangible heritage list, but fewer and fewer households are actually bothering to make their own kimchi nowadays. More surprisingly, many Koreans no longer eat their most famous dish.
One double-income couple in their 30s say they rarely eat kimchi because they do not eat at home much, and when they do, they buy meal kits that just need to be heated up.
“We used to get kimchi and other side dishes from our parents just after we got married, but we ended up throwing a lot of it away and decided not to accept any more food,” the wife said. “Of course we buy small portions of kimchi when we eat instant noodles or maybe make kimchi stew at home sometimes.”
Kimchi consumption has declined as western food is being embraced here. The Korea Health Industry Development Institute studied the nutritional intake of Koreans and found that the average daily intake of kimchi fell from 79.43 g per person in 2008 to 59.87 g in 2019, down 24.6 percent.
The trend has also led to a steady decline in sales of special kimchi refrigerators, which were once hugely popular. To remain appealing, home appliance makers have begun to add new functions to their kimchi fridges.
LG’s Dios now has tailored storage conditions for readymade kimchi from different food makers, while Winia’s kimchi fridges can also store wine, beer and soju in optimum temperatures.
The older generation still prevail on their children to make kimchi together, but many younger people think the annual ritual of kimjang is fusty and outdated. One 37-year-old office worker said, “We don’t eat that much kimchi nowadays and I don’t understand why I have to sacrifice a whole weekend every year to make it. My mother-in-law goes to see a doctor for her back pain after every kimjang season, and I just don’t understand why she keeps making kimchi.”
Kim Jung-sook, the head of the Gwangju Kimchi Academy, said, “The decline is inevitable because a growing number of young people have grown accustomed to western food and more and more women have jobs. If the older generation who know how to make kimchi die or are no longer capable of making it, we could end up seeing the tradition disappear.”
Kim added, “We need to make kimchi-making kits that reflect the unique tastes of different regions of the country available at the market and train experts so that kimchi will continue to be made at home. Kimchi is getting more and more popular outside Korea due to its health benefits, so we should really be able to hold on to our status as a home of kimchi and kimjang.”
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