Rising Cost of Kimchi Alarms Koreans
...But recent sales have been disappointing, Mrs. Kim said, because of an unavoidable spike in the price of her kimchi, the fiery and pungent Korean national dish that typically combines cabbage, radishes, red chili peppers, garlic and salt. The price for one head of long-leafed Napa cabbage grown in Korea has skyrocketed in the past month, to as much as $14, from about $2.50. Domestic radishes have tripled in price, to more than $5 apiece, and the price of garlic has more than doubled.
Kimchi has become so expensive that some restaurants in the capital no longer offer it free as a banchan, or side dish, a situation akin to having an American burger joint charge for ketchup, although decidedly more calamitous here. The politics editor of a major South Korean newspaper called the kimchi situation “a national tragedy,” and an editorial in Dong-a Ilbo termed it “a once in a century crisis.”
Wholesalers and economists have blamed overly rainy weather for the cabbage shortage, as well as fewer acres having been planted after a bumper crop and low prices in 2009. The average price for a head of Napa cabbage last year was $1.40, according to food industry figures.
The opposition Democratic Party also has laid blame for the shortages on a large river-reclamation project, saying it destroyed farmland that would have been used for cabbages and other vegetables, a charge the government has denied.
Meanwhile, there have been reports of cabbage rustling in rural areas, and the government has suspended tariffs on imported cabbage and radishes from China, beginning Thursday. The president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, has said that until the crisis eases he will eat only the cheap and inferior kind of cabbage — the round-headed variety commonly found in Europe and the United States.
“There is no reason for regular folks to have to buy items integral to daily life at higher prices than international prices,” Mr. Lee said at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, while instructing his economists to more closely monitor commodity prices that have sent the South Korean consumer price index to a 17-month high...