Indeed, it may be “the cabbage you can ravage with the chilli paste taste,” but kimchi isn’t that amazing. I mean, taste is subjective and everything, but can anything really be so awesome that an entire nation of people could be obsessed with it? Even in America people vary their fast-food diets. One day it’s fried chicken and the next it’s hamburgers, and sometimes it’s a pizza. But in Korea, people are so crazy about kimchi that it goes beyond ridiculous. It’s something that has to be experienced to be understood, and I think it’s impossible to exaggerate the love Koreans have for their national dish.

I’d never even heard of the stuff until I came to Korea, and when I was presented with a side dish of it at dinner, I thought, Hmm, this is ok. It was indeed palatable, but nothing special. The next day I was given it for lunch, then dinner. And the next day. And the next. Pretty soon I opted to pass over the kimchi. It wasn’t that it tasted awful, but rather that it just wasn’t good enough to eat twice a day.

But kimchi is everywhere in Korea and ignoring it won’t make it go away. I work in a school, and consequently I have to discuss food with my kids to teach them the English words for edible things. “What did you have for breakfast?” “Kimchi.” “Lunch?” “Kimchi.” “Dinner?” “Kimchi.” Koreans literally eat kimchi three meals a day. Frequently, they will have kimchi jjigae (soup, or stew) with a side of kimchi. There’s also kimchi in many other foods, served with a side of kimchi. I wondered how much kimchi the average Korean ate each year, and checked out the statistics, and found that they consume seventy-seven pounds of it per capita, per year.

“What is your favourite food?” I asked every kid in my school at least once a semester, when the textbooks dictate this a necessary discussion. “Kimchi, and…” They’ll usually mention two things, but one of them will always be kimchi. I recently asked my class to write an essay about their favourite food, and most of them were about kimchi. One of them was the word “kimchi” written two hundred times on a piece of paper.

When I leave school, having had my kimchi-based school lunch and kimchi fuelled children talking about kimchi, the last thing I really want to think about is kimchi. Yet I hop on the subway and there it is: the smell of a hundred people who’ve eaten fermented cabbage for three meals that day, and three the day before, farting, burping, coughing and breathing kimchi into the air. Ass-kimchi is worse even than “fresh” kimchi.

In my own home I feel I am safe, but then I turn on my air conditioning and realise that LG puts kimchi enzymes into their air conditioners, in a move that is surely as Korean as putting timers on their fans to prevent suffocation.

Whenever I leave Korea, I yearn for a kimchi free day, and usually I get it. However, when I was in Fukuoka and Beijing, the local Korean populations were so kimchi-crazy that supermarkets and restaurants had bags of the stuff rotting away, waiting to become a fart. More irritating, however, is at the ferry port in Busan, waiting for my boat ride out of kimchi-country, and there is a store that sells giant discount bags of kimchi for Koreans leaving Korea. There’s no way they could go a day without kimchi, so they stock up enough of it to last their journey. Suitcases bulge with kimchi, and as I get on the ferry it becomes apparent that lunch is making its way into the atmosphere after a few hours in the digestive tract.

Where must a guy go to get away from kimchi? The Korean Space Research Institute developed “space kimchi” to accompany Korean astronauts on their journeys away from kimchi-world! Imagine the smell of a space station once the kimchi arrives… There’s nothing less welcome than a kimchi-fart in a space suit. Unbearable.

But in honesty, it’s funny watching Koreans defend kimchi. They’ll throw science about, claiming kimchi is healthy. Indeed, kimchi is healthy… when eaten occasionally. When eaten three meals a day it has a serious contribution to the development of gastric cancer, something in which Koreans lead the world. A Korean person is ten times more likely to suffer from gastric cancer than an American.

Korean scientists, as always, are backing the old wives in terms of bizarre theories. Kimchi apparently keeps SARS away, and is rumoured to stop one from contracting AIDS. In 2005, at SeoulUniversity, researchers fed kimchi to thirteen birds with avian flu (poor defenceless things) and allegedly eleven of them recovered. Now they say it lowers stress in mice, and is being available in anti-cancer, anti-obesity and anti-aging varieties, thanks to over half a million of the government’s dollars, even in these dark days of the plummeting won.

The library of Korean propaganda relating to kimchi is expanding at a rate of three hundred books and dissertations per year. Writing about the negative qualities of the national dish is something that just isn’t done, given that most of the research is funded by the crooked government. The well-respected article that exposes kimchi’s unhealthy side was published in Beijing, because in Korea there was no chance of having such a thing made public. Strangely, it was written entirely by Korean scientists. Perhaps they were hoping to redeem themselves after fan death, fake-cloning, bird flu, and other national embarrassments.

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DAVID WILLS is the managing editor of Beatdom Magazine, and the author of The Dog Farm and Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult'. You can learn more about him on his website.

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