Many Koreans who grew up in the U.S. probably understand why the recent kimchi trend is a little irritating. Korean Americans know full well the shame they had to endure by their non-Korean friends who expressed disgust of the pungent smell and taste of kimchi. That sense of shame is then heightened by alienation, making them feel as if Korean culture isn’t normal.
“I see a lot of white guys making Korean food ,and I’ll be honest, it pisses the shit out of me,” David Chang, renowned Korean American chef, said. “It’s everywhere now. Kimchi this, kimchi that. You weren’t like, ostracized in elementary school because everyone thought when they visited your house that it smelled like garbage. They didn’t have to endure emotional hardship. And now it’s cool.”
Kimchi is a staple Korean food made from various vegetables, most commonly with napa cabbage and radishes. It contains an assortment of spices, including seafood sauce, red pepper paste, garlic and ginger. It has a sour taste, a crunchy texture and a fishy smell that is packed with probiotics, vitamins and minerals.
“Kimchi is a traditional Korean food manufactured by fermenting vegetables with probiotic lactic acid bacteria,” the Journal of Medicinal Food wrote. “Accordingly, kimchi can be considered a vegetable probiotic food that contributes health benefits in a similar manner as yogurt as a dairy probiotic food.”
Nowadays, you can find kimchi in supermarket chains, taco trucks and on hot dogs. What used to ostracize Korean Americans has now become trendy, which is annoying in some ways, but exciting that the western world is finally appreciating Korean food.
Popularization is a foolish way to appreciate ethnic foods. Waiting for celebrity chefs and publications to tell us what cuisine is worthy of attention is a small-minded way of enjoying foods outside of your comfort zone.
“Declaring an entire ‘ethnic’ cuisine a trend is inherently dismissive,” Khushbu Shah, Thrillist’s senior food features editor, said. “Filipino food, for example, is the main source of sustenance for more than 100 million people around the world today and has been eaten for centuries, even in the United States. So the very nature of tagging something as a trend also gives it a shelf life that is set to expire after its moment of popularity. But that’s not how cuisines work.”
Kimchi’s trendiness will likely wane, but it will certainly not lose its cultural significance. The first step in exploring foods past your customary tastes is to have an open mind. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but don’t hold it against us.