Kimchi Lovers In A Pickle Over Cabbage Prices Heavy rains are being blamed for the soaring price of cabbage in South Korea. That means there is a short supply of kimchi -- the pickled condiment that is on almost every restaurant table. Some restaurants are debating whether to charge customers who partake -- which would be like charging Americans for ketchup.

Kimchi Lovers In A Pickle Over Cabbage Prices

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


And in most countries, a cabbage shortage wouldn't cause much of a stir. Maybe Russia or Poland, but certainly it would in South Korea. In fact, it has. That's because it is the main ingredients for kimchi, that spicy fermented side dish that's served with almost every meal. The crisis has gotten serious enough for the government to step in.

From Seoul, Doualy Xaykaothao has this report.

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: The combination of bad weather and soaring food prices have forced markets in and around Seoul to sell Napa cabbage - the key ingredient for the side dish kimchi - at record-high levels. Just a month ago, a head of cabbage cost less than $4, today it's anywhere from $10 to $14 a head. To combat the shortage, the government last week, suspended its tariffs on cabbage, announcing it will buy fresh vegetables from China.

(Soundbite of people talking)

XAYKAOTHAO: Over at the local Well(ph) Being(ph) Market(ph), three small heads of cabbage are being sold in a package for about $20.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

XAYKAOTHAO: Expensive, this Halmoni or grandmother, says shaking her head, it's just too expensive. She takes a good look at the quality of the cabbage, then walks away.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of laughter)

XAYKAOTHAO: I'm not buying it, she says. But a market attendant, Kim Soo-ok, says people are buying it, and fast, because they can't live without kimchi.

Ms. KIM SOO-OK (Market Attendant) (Foreign language spoken) (Through Translator) She says people who need it, buy it.

XAYKAOTHAO: Are people complaining to you about the price of the cabbage?

Ms. SOO-OK: (Foreign language spoken) (Through Translator) She says it's really not that expensive, because, you know, at other places like you're seeing on the news, it's 12, 13, 14 for one head of cabbage, where as here it's all three for 20.

(Soundbite of woman talking) (Foreign language spoken)

XAYKAOTHAO: Over at Namsan Kimchi Jigae restaurant, a little hole in the wall that serves only hot kimchi stew with pork, owner Jang Pyeong-su was forced to close just a couple of days ago because of a shortage of kimchi. And today he's got a sign up that says the price of his only dish just went up by 500 won, to $6 a bowl.

Mr. JANG PYEONG-SU (Restaurant owner): (Foreign language spoken) (Through Translator) Of course this restaurant runs on kimchi, but the price isn't the problem, it's that he can't even get his hands on it now.

XAYKAOTHAO: Customer Pak Sung-hoo works at an Italian restaurant, but came to eat the kimchi stew soup here.

Mr. PAK SUNG-HOO: (Foreign language spoken) (Through Translator) You know, it's just something we've always eaten since I was a very little kid, so it's just, if it's not there, it's not - it's just, it can't be.

XAYKAOTHAO: Even the president of South Korea says he'll sacrifice and stop eating kimchi to ease the Napa cabbage shortage.

For NPR News, I'm Doualy Xaykaothao in Seoul.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.