Kimchi-making season kicks off in S. Korea

Updated 04 December 2013

Kimchi-making season kicks off in S. Korea

It’s kimchi-making season in South Korea, with households across the country preparing and laying down stocks of the ubiquitous spicy side-dish for the coming winter.
But many foreign visitors, including the most intrepid foodies, will probably leave without ever tasting a Korean-made version of the national dish of fermented, chili-soused cabbage.
That might be hard to believe for those who watched Wednesday as around 3,000 women wearing surgical hats and masks with rubber gloves and aprons, gathered outside Seoul city hall for a mass kimchi-making exercise.
In just four hours, they churned out 250 tons of kimchi that will be distributed to low-income families throughout the city.
Despite such prodigious feats of production, Korean kimchi is not that easy to come by in the country of its birth — to the extent that it imports more of the pungent dish than it exports.
Apart from upscale restaurants, most food outlets in Seoul and other cities serve Chinese-made versions of the side-dish which, in its classic form, comprises salt water-marinated cabbage flavored with a mix of powdered chili, salt, garlic, ginger and spring onion.
This is because Chinese kimchi is far, far cheaper, with a wholesale price of around 800 won ($0.75) a kilo compared to 3,000 won for the homemade version.
And that huge price differential is largely responsible for what, since 2006, has become known as South Korea’s “kimchi deficit.”

Last year, South Korean kimchi exports totalled a record $106.6 million — 80 percent of it bound for Japan, according to the Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corp. (KAFTC).
But imports were even higher at $110.8 million — with 90 percent coming from China — for a deficit of $4.2 million.
That figure is expected to double in 2013, and already stood at $10 million at the end of September, partly due to a fall in exports to Japan because of the weak yen and strained relations between Seoul and Tokyo.
With the exception of 2009, South Korea has run a kimchi deficit every year since 2006.
Many see this state of affairs as an affront to the cultural heritage of a country where pride in the national dish cannot be overestimated.
South Korea boasts a global kimchi research center, a kimchi museum and an annual kimchi festival — and a fermented serving was even blasted into space with the country’s first astronaut in 2008.
“It’s regrettable that the locally made kimchi is disappearing at local restaurants,” a KAFTC official told AFP.
“There have been concerns about food safety regarding made-in-China kimchi, and some restaurants fake the origin of their kimchi to customers,” he said.
While something of an acquired taste, the side-dish has begun to make inroads overseas, beyond established Asian markets like Japan and China.
A flush of national pride was triggered in February when US first lady Michelle Obama tweeted a recipe for White House kimchi.
And the dish is widely expected to be given the official UNESCO stamp of honor as an “intangible cultural heritage” when the UN cultural body meets in Baku next month.
But for the women involved in Wednesday’s event at City Hall, such advances are overshadowed by concerns that the tradition of communal, homemade kimchi production is in danger of dying out.
For generations, families and neighbors have gathered together in November to make the winter kimchi and share out the fruit of their joint efforts.
But changing family and social structures in a rapidly modernizing country mean that the practise is becoming less prevalent, especially among younger South Koreans.
“It’s sad that our traditional culture is disappearing like this,” said Jin Hae-Kyung, her plastic gloves glistening with red chili sauce.
“I’d like our children to learn how to make it, just so they know this is how their grandmothers and ancestors have made delicious, fresh homemade kimchi for centuries,” she added.


Egyptian start-up Shamseya empowers people with medical information

Updated 13 December 2019

Egyptian start-up Shamseya empowers people with medical information

  • Online portal helps citizens find health services and hospitals suited to their needs
  • Aim is to develop new service to allow patients to locate exact services by phone

DUBAI: Cairo-born entrepreneur Ayman Sabae had long wanted to tackle the inadequacies of the Egyptian health care system. But it took the historic events of the Arab Spring to spark his eureka moment.

“It was a very vivid time in my life. For over two weeks, the protesters were put in a position where they had to function as a community to meet their daily needs,” Sabae said of the 2011 Egyptian uprising.

“I saw first-hand how people had to tackle everything from scratch without government help; they came together and created makeshift health clinics to address their own needs.

“It showed me that people are capable of self-organizing based on what people want — not simply because faceless executives decide what is best for them.”

Soon after the Egyptian revolution began, Sabae launched Shamseya, a health startup that puts people at its core.

“I founded my startup with the intention of creating tools that give power to the people,” he said. “Shamseya seeks the creation of a dynamic, community-based health care system.”

Egyptian entrepreneur Ayman Sabae. (Supplied)

According to Sabae, most Egyptians are eligible for social health insurance but much of the population misses out on quality health care due to national inaccessibility of information.

“A lot of people don’t get access to what’s best for them because they don’t know what’s available, they get lost in bureaucracy, or they are worried about the poor quality of services,” he said.

Shamseya, which runs on both grants and private consulting fees, has launched an online portal to help Egyptian patients find the health services and hospitals that are suited to their needs.

The Eghospitals platform is populated with data inputted by NGO or community members who conduct “mystery patient” tests at hospitals.

The results are collated into a comprehensive nationwide portal, which ranks and rates hospitals based on their specialities.

“The idea behind Eghospitals is to hold hospitals accountable with ad-hoc inspections,” said Sabae.

Each hospital receives an online rating, as well as physical signs that can be placed at the hospital premises as badges of trust.

The organization is also working on adding niche ratings, such as youth, women and disability-friendly facilities.

“Historically, there has hardly been any accurate or credible information in Egypt that enables people to make informed decisions about their treatment,” Sabae said.

“In Egypt, people tend to use word-of-mouth for health recommendations but this only reflects subjective experiences; it’s not sufficient for specific treatments. This is why we designed a patient-centric tool for the quality of hospitals.”

Shamseya, which describes itself broadly as a health solutions company, has also developed a platform that allows patient grievances to be flowed through the correct channels.

The platform, Melior, delivers valuable information about complaints to stakeholders across the health care system.

According to Sabae, the organization also has plans in the offing to develop a personalized citizen’s support program that guides people on how best to benefit from the Egyptian health care system.

Dubbed “El Naseh,” the initiative is designed to allow Egyptians to pick the phone and locate the exact services they need.

“The aim is to avoid lots of parallel systems and to maximize the efficiency of the national health care system. It’s about maximizing what we already have in the country,” Sabae said.

“Ultimately, the entrepreneur believes that the sustainability of any meaningful health care reform relies on ensuring full community engagement in the design, implementation and monitoring of the programs.”

Looking to the future, Sabae said: “Ideally speaking, I would hope for the full implementation of a universal health care system that would provide quality health care for all, regardless of their income, gender, geography, or social background.

“The only way this is possible is with a system that listens to the people, gives them choices and allows for feedback. A futuristic health system needs to be patient-centric — this is the only way to build a sustainable health care system.”

 

• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.