North Koreans Shun Government Cabbage During Kimchi Season

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A farmer carries a fully grown cabbage at a farm on the outskirts of Pyongyang.
A farmer carries a fully grown cabbage at a farm on the outskirts of Pyongyang.

With kimchi-making season in full swing, North Koreans dissatisfied with the quality of napa cabbages grown in state-run farms are reportedly looking to privately grown alternatives for the fermented staple of Korean cuisine.

“Kimchi making season starts in November, and lots of napa cabbages are hauled to the local market on carts and wagons,” a source from South Pyongan Province told RFA’s Korean service. “People in the markets only want to buy cabbages grown on private fields because of their superior quality,” the source said.

In Korean culture, the kimchi-making season is extremely important in preparing for the lean winter months.

“We usually make half a year’s supply of kimchi, so the quality of the cabbage will decide how well the family can eat from winter to spring,” the source said.

The source further explained why the privately grown cabbages are better. “[They have] enough fertilizer and water so they are more tender and sweet. The best cabbages have yellow leaves closely bunched in the center,” the source said.

“Private farmers like to cultivate medium-sized cabbages. They are not too big or small. They are perfect for kimchi and will last through the winter,” the source said. “But on the other hand, the state-run farms always make large cabbages. They don’t have tightly packed leaves in the center and their outer leaves are gigantic,” the source added.

The differences in size naturally lead to a difference in price. “One kilo of the medium variety in Pyongsong market is about 2,000 North Korean won ($US 0.25),” the source said. “A kilo of the low-quality cabbage is only 500 won ($US 0.06) and the only people who would buy the bad cabbage are those who can’t afford the good cabbage,” said the source.

Cabbage for the masses

Another source, also from South Pyongan talked about an incident where harvesters for the government lamented the quality of the produce.

“There was a government-sponsored two-day harvesting campaign [for Kimchi season] at a local factory, so the workers went out to their assigned farms, but they complained about the quality of what they were harvesting and asked for time to sell the harvest on the market instead [of keeping the cabbages for their own use],” the source said.

“The government just tells the vegetable farms to make cabbage at a preset cost determined by the state. They don’t help out with any fertilizer or farming equipment, so it’s hard to [produce anything of good quality],” the source said.

“All they can do is plant the seeds, do some calculations for the crop, and assign harvesting and distribution duties to different factories,” the source said.

“[Once it’s all done,] they report [to the authorities] that their orders are complete,” said the source.

Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.





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