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North Korea Receives UNESCO Recognition for Its Kimchi Variation

  • Zlatica Hoke

Traditional North Korean kimchi - a spicy pickled vegetable dish - has gained a prestigious recognition from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization - UNESCO - in Namibia this week.

Kimchi is a spicy and sour side dish made by fermenting vegetables - usually cabbage - with spices such as chili peppers, garlic and ginger. While it is common in South and North Korea, variations of kimchi are gaining popularity around the world. South Korea has already received UNESCO recognition and now the North has it too.

"Kimchi is a vegetable dish made by seasoning various vegetables or wild edible greens with spices, fruit, meat, fish or fermented seafood before they undergo lactic fermentation. Kimchi has hundreds of variations, and it is not only a daily dish but it is also served on special occasions such as holidays, birthday parties, weddings and even at state banquets. The differences in local conditions and household preferences and customs result in variations in recipes and ingredients," said Han Yong Il of North Korea’s national authority for the protection of cultural heritage.

Kimjang, the process by which most South Korean kimchi is made, was granted UNESCO status in 2013. But North Korea claims its kimchi is different and deserves special recognition. North Korean kimchi is less spicy and less red because it uses fewer hot peppers. The U.N. agency granted its variation of kimchi the status of "intangible cultural heritage of humanity" on Wednesday.

Regardless of its status, few Koreans can imagine a meal without their traditional pickles. Some even believe it has medicinal properties.

"Kimchi is our national food, it's something special, and it's something we just have to have as part of our diet," said Ryang Un Bok, a Pyongyang resident.

Kimchi recipes and ingredients vary from village to village and not only between North and South. One thing they all have in common is the pungent smell that comes from fermenting, something non-Koreans need time to get used to.