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The Kitchen Sisters Present Episode #64: Kimchi Diplomacy

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Kimchi in space. The Kimchi Bus. Government-sponsored chefs and restaurants spreading the word of Kimchi around the globe. South Korea is one of the nations most involved in branding itself through its food, using food as a part of it’s “soft power.” It’s called “Gastrodiplomacy” — the use of food as a diplomatic tool to help resolve conflicts and foster connections between nations.

“Kimchi is like air in Korea,” says Hyunjoo Albrecht, a San Francisco-based chef and owner of Sinto Gourmet who grew up near the DMZ border between South and North Korea. 1.5 million tons of kimchi are eaten each year in Korea and there are hundreds of different varieties. “The government gave financial support to some of the Korean restaurants in US,” says Hyunjoo. “They want more people outside Korea to eat more Korean food.”

Si-Hyeon Ryu is a chef and writer from South Korea who, with support from the government, has traveled in The Kimchi Bus to more than 34 countries cooking traditional Korean food and spreading his love of kimchi. “People on the street they know just about North and South Korea,” he says, but not much about Korean cuisine. “If I explain about kimchi they will understand about Korea.”

Astronaut Soyeon Yi, Korea’s first astronaut, describes the Korean government’s efforts to invent kimchi for space travel — not an easy task. Soyeon Yi prepared a special Korean meal for her Russian comrades in space. “Having kimchi in space, you are far from your home planet,” she says. “When you eat your own traditional food it makes you feel emotionally supported. I can feel my home.”

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