SEOUL — A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but the naming of kimchi, a pungent, pickled vegetable dish, is raising a stink in South Korea.
A staple side dish for most Koreans, the spicy, garlicky concoction has begun to collect a loyal following abroad. And as exports grow, the question has arisen of how to properly spell the product.
South Koreans insist it be spelled kimchee, instead of kimchi or kimuchi, which many consider to be Japanese variants of the Korean name.
The difference may be insignificant to foreigners, but not to Koreans, many of whom still remember the harsh Japanese colonial rule of 1910-45.
During that period, Korean language was banned in schools, and books and cultural artifacts were burned. Many people were forced to abandon their Korean names for Japanese ones under an assimilation program. Those who refused faced harsh retribution.
Kimchee/kimchi isn’t the first war of names that South Korea has waged with Japan. The government also won’t take part in any international forum that refers to the body of water between South Korea and Japan as the Sea of Japan.
Although called the Sea of Japan by most nations, South Korea calls it the East Sea.
“It’s our last point of pride,” said Lee Sung-woo at the government’s Patent Bureau, which is spearheading the campaign to standardize the spelling as kimchee.
“It’s our food, passed down from generation to generation, and we have to make sure that it’s called by its rightful name,” he said.
No Korean meal is considered complete without the dish, which comes in more than 100 regional varieties. But cabbage pickled with hot red peppers, salt, scallions, and lots of garlic is its most common form.
In the past, schoolgirls were given holidays to help out during the main pickling in the fall, and businesses gave out bonuses so employees could buy enough cabbage to pickle supplies for the winter.
Recently, mass-produced kimchee/kimchi has gained popularity, and traditionalists have lamented that children reared on hamburgers do not appreciate its taste.
By JU-YEON KIM
MARCH 5, 1995 12 AM PT
Published in Los Angele Times