SEOUL, South Korea – Freakish fall weather has resulted in a national kimchi crisis, causing South Korean consumers to clutch at their purses, hearts and stomachs as they seek to deal with a shortage of the oblong-shaped cabbage used to make the ubiquitous spicy dish.
With heavy September rains ruining much of the Napa, or Chinese, cabbage crop, prices have jumped fourfold to more than $10 a head.
In response, the federal government last week announced a temporary reduction in tariffs on Chinese-imported cabbage and radishes in a plan to rush an additional 100 tons of the staples into stores this month.
And on Monday, the Seoul city government began a kimchi bailout program, in which it is absorbing 30 percent of the cost of about 300,000 heads of cabbage that it has purchased from rural farmers.
Depriving Koreans of their kimchi, many say, is like forcing Italians to forgo pasta or taking all the tea from China. The dish of fermented cabbage, radish and chili paste has such iconic status here that there is a museum dedicated to kimchi in Seoul, and portions of it were blasted into space with the country’s first astronaut in 2008.
Served with virtually every meal, kimchi is believed by many to ward off aging, reduce cholesterol and fight disease. South Koreans eat more than 2 million tons in total each year.
The shortages have come at the onset of gimjang season, when families lovingly hand-prepare the kimchi they will consume during the winter and spring. Many prefer kimchi that has fermented for months or even years in earthenware pots.
Many stores have posted “out of stock” signs in the Chinese cabbage bins. Many of the cabbages that are still available are anemic. Kimchi home delivery companies have also suspended services.