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kimuchi vs. kimchi

Every cuisine emulates another, makes a part of it its own.

No doubt well-made Korean kimchi would taste better in general, but kimuchi is huge business in Japan. The Japanese version is considered Japanese, not Korean. (No?)

I've heard discussions about this topic before, but not much on this board.
(The last one seems to be from 2000)

Your thoughts?

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  1. Kimuchi is indeed Japanese, not Korean. I personally don't like the Japanese versions as much as any of the Korean stuff-- seriously, why waste one's taste buds on bland foods?

    But it's not uncommon for the appropriation of each other's foods between the two (and among other) countries-- that isn't to say that they're completely alike. Korean kare is different from the Japanese version-- it tends to be less sweet and generally doesn't require the addition of apples or honey, for instance, despite some Koreans opting to use Japanese block mixes.

    It seems to boil down to a matter of preference and the cultural palates, so...

    But do NOT get me started on the marketing of produce, meats, fishes, etc. that are also native to Korea as being Japanese, under the Japanese name, etc., even in the American and some European markets. Man, that sort of thing riles me up!

    1. kimchi is inherently korean, probably the most essential and representative of all korean dishes. it's popularity in japan and other parts of asia is understandable, considering the variety of pickled or fermented foods across the continent. but kimchi (all varieties) is still uniquely korean.

      kimuchi is obviously just the way kimchi is pronounced in japanese. the controversy doesn't come so much from kimchi's popularity in japan as much as from japan's huge commercial market, which exports to other countries. considering the bitterness between the two countries due to japan's occupation of korea in the last century, i think it is clear that koreans object to their national dish being de-flavored and mass-marketed.

      political reasons aside, i avoid "kimuchi" in general because i was raised by a korean mother, so i like the real deal. and i am a huge fan of good japanese food, so it's not just some cultural bias.

      that said, i was first introduced to japanese foods such as tonkatsu, zaru soba, and sushi while living in korea, so it goes both ways. but i gotta say, if you're interested in eating kimchi, seek it out in korean restaurants and markets (or homes of people who make their own), not from japanese sources. it just makes sense, unless you know a japanese market sources their kimchi from a reputable producer.

      1 Reply
      1. re: augustiner

        The thing is, a lot of people just aren't interested in having kimchi that's properly fermented. It seems that much of the Korean food marketed in the States is sweeter than usual in order to cater to a different palate, and perhaps the Japanese are seeing place in the market that they can fill with something that isn't as spicy, "funky" from jutgal, etc.-- besides, things tend to sell better when they're under Japanese names, you know?

        BTW, there's a difference between occupation and colonizing; most Koreans aren't bitter about Americans, who still occupy militarily important areas...

      2. so whats the difference between kimuchi and kimchi? Is the japanese version less spicy? that's how I'd imagine it at least. I wonder if japan imports a lot of kimchi from korea since it's so close by.

        1. Yeah, so what's the taste difference?
          Varieties? Ingredients? Methods?

          1. I LOVE Korean Kimchi. And I have been blessed with a Korean Grocer barely 3 miles from my house. The couple there that own the store can't speak English at ALL. Their clientelle is primarily Korean, so they don't need to speak English. I get a 1 gallon jar of cut, prepared Kimchi and eat a little every couple of days and it is soooo delicious. Their store is FULL of Asian delicacies. I'll go in there once a month and spend $50-$100. I grew up in Bangkok, Thailand so I HAVE to have things like fish sauce (Nam Pla in Thai), peeled garlic cloves, coconut milk and cans of Thai curry pastes. So I am in heaven because of these people. They started carrying Masago and Tobikko a couple months back (I about freaked out when I saw a 1 kilogram brick of RED tobikko japanese caviar for $18.99 there). They have a selection of frozen seafood that puts the average grocer to SHAME. Though because the store sells a lot of imports, not much there is "fresh" (I mean not frozen). The list of treats goes on and on.

            They know me now and I always get a smile from the staff there when I show up because I'm not their typical customer. But they appreciate my patronage. They can't say hello, but they DO know how to say "thank you".

            I am very grateful to have them so close to my home.

            1. Kimchi is Korean food! Japanese copied kimchi and made it as kimUchi.

              1. It depends on who is making the kimuchi or kimchi and where. And of course where it is being applied and how.

                This is a loaded question just like comparing Japanese yakiniku vs Korean BBQ, where yakiniku (and kimuchi) have Korean origins. Who is doing the grilling, type of meat, marination, cooking and serving process (down to the dip sauce receipe) and overall experience, is key.

                I've had great kimuchi stir fry with black pork belly slices at an Okinawan izakaya in Taipei. The kimchi chives at Taipei's branch of Kagetsu Arashi ramen is fiery almost numbing hiccup inducing spicy good. And I've had mediocre to pretty bad kimchi at Korean restaurants where I live in California (and have had great ones too).

                1 Reply
                1. re: K K

                  Excellent point, I've had few disappointing kimchis from Korean markets but many a lousy one in Korean restaurants. But if you had to make a blind choice between door number one (Korean Kimchi) and door number two (Japanese Kimuchi) which would you choose?

                2. I get great kimchi from the above mentioned Korean grocer but keep in mind that a kimchi will also be made with lots of different ingredients. Classic kimchi is made with cabbage, tiny salt shrimp and hot pepper powder. But this grocer I visit has mustard green kimchi, green onion kimchi and radish kimchi, and even a couple of blends of the above. I am partial to the original cabbage recipe myself.

                  1. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. But for businessmen it's about money and for Korean people it's about the Japanese colonization and rebranding "kimchi" is viewed as invasive.

                    The two don't have to be separate things. If kimuchi is the McDonaldized form of kimchi, Koreans should just mass market that along with authentic kimchi and just drive out the Japanese market.

                    However renaming kimchi to kimuchi doesn't make Japanese. Sure it's a variant flavor so it doesn't taste the same but it's like how pizza is still recognized as Italian food though Domino's pizza is entirely different from its origins in Italy, as American sushi rolls with cream cheese and avocado is still recognized as Japanese sushi by laymen, TacoBell is American but tacos are obviously Mexican, etc.

                    Overall the Japanese culture is very adept at assimilating aspects of other cultures as part of their own thereby keeping their culture fresh and marketable (eg. a Japanese will correct you if you say "hamburger" to "hamuburgeru" which has assimilated into their vocabulary)

                    Relabeling kimchi seems like a typical Japanese thing to do by taking everything they like as their own (with no credit given whatsoever to the source) so rather than crying a river I think the Korean market should out compete this watered down version.

                    Same concept goes for soju vs sochu. Most people will not care about exact origins so Koreans need to step up on their global marketing!!!

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: elisakid

                      You're being unnecassarily senstive to an issue that has nothing to do with Japan's colonial past. "Kimuchi" is how the Korean word is rendered phonetically in Japanese. It has nothing to do with the completely idiotic speculation that it is a matter of re-branding. That's gonzo crazy ridiculous. In Japan, kimchi is acknowledged as a Korean import and is considered ethnically Korean. Interest in Korean foods and culture has increased in recent years in Japan. It's never relabeled or re-branded as purely Japanese.....And "shochu" has NOTHING to do with Korean. The Japanese word, as well as the Korean, are both based on readings of the Chinese characters. Japanese shochu itself bears only basic resemblence to Korean soju and the origins of both are unclear- but very unlikely to be either Korean or Japanese.

                      1. re: Silverjay

                        We've split off a discussion about soju and shochu to the Spirits board. Please continue that discussion here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/722027

                      2. re: elisakid

                        Actually - the Japanese pronunciation is "han-baa-gaa." not "hamuburgeru."

                        1. re: Radical347

                          Not to be confused with "ham/n-baa-gu" - aka hamburger (salisbury) steak.

                      3. Pronounciation wise - Kimuchi is the way the Japanese pronounce kimchi. They can't seem to pronounce it without including that "u" sound in the middle. My Japanese friends have tried to pronounce it to no avail. However, my Japanese-American friends can pronounce kimchi properly.. must have something to do with tongue muscles/what language you speak.

                        Dish wise - the Japanese kimuchi is not kimchi because it's not fermented. By definition kimchi has to have some type of fermention step to it (Codex Alimentarius, an organization that is part of the UN and WHO sets out official food "standards" list and kimchi is included.) Even mul kimchi (water kimchi) is brined and fermented at least overnight.

                        Saying that Japanese kimuchi is a different version of kimchi is like saying white wine is the same as champagne since both are made with Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes. One needs to realize that both ingredients AND what you do with them are what makes the dish. Otherwise, I could simply throw some cream, chocolate, butter, eggs and sugar into a work, stir fry the heck out of it and call the resulting dish a chocolate souffle.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: SeoulQueen

                          Regarding pronounciation ... I'm thinking this is because there is no "m" ending as there is in Korean (there is no consonant ending at all - except for "n"). I don't know what the correct linguistic term for this is.

                          In Japanese, to pronounce the "m" sound you can choose from the following: "ma", "mi", "mu", "me" and "mo" - so to approximate the two-syllable word "kim-chi" in Japanese, the closest would be "ki-mu-chi" - though of course the ki and mu blends together and ends up sounding like "kim". Hope that helps!

                          1. re: asiansupper

                            I took an intro to Japanese language course a milliion years ago and I remember the instructor saying that native speakers have difficulty pronouncing two consonants in a row because consonants are typically separately by a vowel in Japanese. I don't know if this is true but it makes sense to me. Might explain why Japanese speakers have such trouble with as beloved a word as "baseball" in English :-).

                            Another borrowed and changed item that I know has received a fair amount of coverage is the transformation of Chinese jao zi to Japanese gyoza, both ever so tasty when done well but quite different.

                          2. re: SeoulQueen

                            I'm completely unfamiliar with kimuchi, but it doesn't need to be fermented to be called kimchi. My mom makes a quick kimchi every time she makes a new batch of fermented kimchi. It's basically the odds and ends from the latest batch of kimchi with a few more ingredients added so we could eat it while we waited for the batch to age properly.

                            1. re: soypower

                              yeah my mom makes "instant kimchi" sometimes, especially in the summer. but there is a different word for this: keotjeori or kotjori (romanized spelling is confusing). its not a kimchi, i think precisely because it is NOT fermented. often made with lettuce or napa cabbage, almost a spicy salad.


                              1. re: augustiner

                                Koreans cannot live without kimchi. Kimchi by definition is very broad because it covers all kinds of kimchi like mul-kimchi , pa-kimchi and so on.


                                1. re: augustiner

                                  I learn something new everyday. I never knew there was a completely different word for it. My mom just calls it muchim kimchi. She also makes mul kimchi that we can eat right away, though it does taste better the next day.

                                  1. re: soypower

                                    Yep - it's called 겉절이 - you can make it with baechu too

                                    1. re: asiansupper

                                      So I neglected to look at that recipe for keotjeori. Totally different than what I was talking about. That's called salad in our house. Sometimes we use it as a side, other times we use it to eat along with bulgogi or sogumgui. Many times it's made with green onions instead of lettuce.

                                      The 'instant kimchi' I was referring to takes about a day. Basically all the same steps as regular kimchi. Salt the cabbage for a day, rinse and add the yangnim (a mix of fish sauce, garlic, onion, apple, and green onions). Add a little sesame oil, sesame seeds and sugar and it's ready to eat. It still has a somewhat fermented quality due to the fish sauce.

                                      1. re: soypower

                                        Ditto - I didn't read the recipe either. I forgot what the green onion thing (slivered green onions, with soy/vinegar/red pepper etc) that you eat with BBQ is called.