QuickCheck: Did kimchi evolve into a carrot dish popular in Russia?

IT can be said that Korean food is known and loved around the world, and that the fermented vegetable dish that is kimchi is much-cherished by those who enjoy the bold, often fiery flavours from the Land of the Morning Calm.

Along with that, it has been said over the years that morkovcha – a shredded carrot appetiser found across Russia and the post-Soviet nations of Central Asia – is in fact descended from kimchi.

Is this true?



Yes, morkovcha is a descendant of Korea's kimchi, and it evolved out of the Koryo-saram (ethnic Koreans in post-Soviet states who descend from Koreans who were living in the Russian Far East) as they adapted to life in what is now Uzbekistan following their forced deportation from Russia's Far East regions on the Pacific coast.

These Korean communities were violently uprooted in the 1930s on the order of dictator Joseph Stalin, as he believed that they were potential traitors who would align themselves with the invading powers should war break out between the Soviet Union and Japan.

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So, how did this mass deportation lead to the shift from chilli-hot, sour and salty kimchi to sweet-and-sour morkovcha?

Basically, the main ingredient for the most well-known form of kimchi – napa cabbages – was not easily found in the arid regions the Koryo-saram found themselves in and therefore had to adapt, basing new dishes on what was readily available.

An explanation of this is available in an Atlas Obscura piece on the dish, which is also known as koreyscha sabzili salat.

“When common Korean ingredients weren’t available, for example, carrots could make a handy substitute. Meanwhile, the coriander seeds and fresh cilantro often added to the salad are staples of Uzbek cuisine,” it writes.

And if one is wondering how popular it is, Atlas Obscura answers that too.

"As Soviet Koreans moved around the USSR to study and work in the 1960s, their cuisine spread and morkovcha became a staple outside the diaspora. The crunchy, garlicky, sweet-and-sour salad is so well-loved, many grocery stores sell packaged spice mixes to make it at home," it says.

So in this case, if life takes away your cabbage and gives you carrots, make morkovcha!





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