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North Korea Is Fighting for Kimchi Recognition

The DPRK may never be able to secure dominance over the capitalist kimchi of the south, but it seems well on its way to parity.
Photo via Flickr user Steven Depolo

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has an ambivalent relationship with food.

Large segments of its population are literally starving yet its Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un is famous for hosting lavish banquets in his secret palatial residences.

READ: The Propaganda Food of North Korea Was Plentiful and Bland

Kim Jong Un's regime repeatedly taunts the West with claims of nuclear capabilities, yet bends over backwards to wine and dine Western tourists eager catch a glimpse inside the Hermit Kingdom. Even airplane food has become a part of the propaganda war.


Now, despite years of tension with the United Nations, North Korea is pushing hard to have its kimchi recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the international organization charged with safeguarding cultural heritage around the world.

According to recent documents released by UNESCO, North Korea has submitted kimchi to be nominated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, meaning that it would be officially recognized as important to world heritage and merit cultural protection from UNESCO.

READ: North Korean Airplane Food Is Officially the Worst

The submission for Intangible Cultural Heritage status, titled "Tradition of kimchi-making in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," is looking like a shoe-in for UNESCO status.

"Koreans share experience among themselves to make delicious kimchi according to season, while helping each other with raw materials and in preparation," UNESCO said in the nomination documents. "Koreans traditionally get together in late November and early December to make enough kimchi to last through the peninsula's long hard winter. The tradition contributes to social unity since it is practised in the whole society involving neighbourhoods, relatives, villages and organisations."

The DPRK even submitted photos and a short film in efforts to woo the UNESCO panel.

But in matters of kimchi, Kim Jong Un's regime is likely more motivated by its resentment of neighbour and sworn enemy to the south than it is by any kind desire to extend an olive branch to the international community.


South Koreans, who consume 40 pounds of kimchi per person annually, have already had their rotten cabbage recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, and it seems that the difference between north and south would be sufficient for the DPRK to get its own UNESCO nomination.

Canadian English teacher Andrew Nowlan travelled to North Korea on a state-sponsored trip last year and told MUNCHIES that their take on fermented cabbage differed significantly from the fiery South Korean variation that Westerners are more used to.

"I've lived in South Korea and the food is just 'knock-your-socks-off' spicy," he said. "But in North Korea everything is very mild. That really surprised me about the food there. The kimchi, the gochujang, which is the fermented spice paste. Everything was quite bland. I don't know if that's because they figured foreign tourists can't handle a little spice, but even after requesting more spice to liven our dishes, it was still pretty bland."

Other contenders for Intangible Cultural Heritage status include Colombian marimba music, Slovakian bagpipe culture, and Turkmenistan's "Epic art of Gorogly."

The DPRK may never be able to secure dominance over the capitalist kimchi of the south, but it seems well on its way to parity.