Cucumber kimchi with everything bagel seasoning: TikTokers allege appropriation of Korean food

cucumber kimchi
Image: stephgigliotti28; @thekoreanvegan/TikTok
  • Oi kimchi (오이 김치) or cucumber kimchi is the latest Korean food trend taking over TikTok, but some Korean American influencers are calling out the way it’s being allegedly appropriated online.
  • “Cultural appropriation in food is admittedly a tricky issue, and some people think it doesn’t even exist,” said chef Joanne Molinaro, also known as the Korean Vegan.
  • TikToker Soogia was among the first to publicly take issue with food and fitness influencer Ainsley Rodriguez after she shared a recipe for cucumber kimchi back in January and swapped gochugaru for chili pepper without mentioning the dish’s Korean origins.

From Korean corndogs and pickled garlic kimchi to dalgona candy popularized by Netflix’s “Squid Game,” a number of Korean-inspired food trends have taken over TikTok this past year. 

The latest trend, oi kimchi (오이 김치) or cucumber kimchi, consists of similar ingredients found in traditional kimchi, such as Korea’s famous gochugaru, but swaps out cabbage for sliced cucumbers.

Both cucumber kimchi and cucumber muchim, a spicy cucumber salad, have been used interchangeably in this trend, though there are slight differences between the two. Cucumber kimchi, similar to traditional kimchi, is often left to ferment before consumption. Cucumber muchim, on the other hand, is prepared to be eaten straight away. 

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Despite being a rather modest dish, often served as a complimentary side by many Korean restaurants, these spicy cucumbers have become embroiled in a cultural appropriation controversy. 

The trend kicked off the way most do, with different content creators preparing the dish and then taste-testing it on camera for their viewers. Chef My of @Myhealthydish shared her own recipe for the cucumbers in a popular video she uploaded in February. Joining in on the food trend was Korean American news anchor Michelle Li, who was previously criticized for being “very Asian” while sharing Korean recipes for New Year’s celebration.

But recently, some Korean American TikTokers have been calling out the way an allegedly appropriated and thus “watered-down” version of cucumber kimchi has been trending on the platform.

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Chef Joanne Molinaro, also known as the Korean Vegan, shared her own recipe for the cucumbers, saying, “Cultural appropriation in food is admittedly a tricky issue, and some people think it doesn’t even exist.

@thekoreanvegan #foodtiktok #cucumberkimchi ♬ original sound – Joanne L. Molinaro (이선영)

“It’s frustrating when I see non-Asian cookbook authors creating watered-down versions of Korean food who sell more books, who get more views, who derive far greater profit margins than those who’ve spent their whole lives eating and cooking Korean food, including those people who made fun of us for eating that food simply because they were born with greater resources.” 

TikToker Soogia, who reshared Molinaro’s statement over the weekend, was among the first to publicly take issue with food and fitness influencer Ainsley Rodriguez after she shared a recipe for cucumber kimchi back in January and swapped gochugaru for chili pepper without mentioning the dish’s Korean origins. Some TikTok users argued that Rodriguez had attempted to pass the recipe off as her own. Titled “Addictive Cucumbers” and pinned to her profile, her video has garnered over 10 million views and remains her most-played video.

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@soogia1 Don’t you want better food??? #oikimchi #cucumberkimchi #culturalappropriation #EasyWithAdobeExpress #BigComfy ♬ original sound – Soogia (soo-jee-yah)

Several other content creators have since come up with their own variations of cucumber kimchi, labeling them instead as “addictive cucumbers” in more viral videos on the platform. 

@stephgigliotti28 The best #healthysnack !! #healthycooking #cucumbersalad #cucumebers🥒 ♬ original sound – Steph Gigliotti

@tastyselly highly addictive!🥒💚 inspo: @Ainsley ✨ #cucumberrecipes #healthysnack ♬ Just the Two of Us – Grover Washington, Jr.

Soogia furthered the conversation started by Molinaro by attempting to demonstrate how the purported appropriation results in an inferior version of the traditional Korean dish. In one example she shared, a TikTok user altered the recipe by omitting gochugaru entirely and sprinkling the cucumbers with “Everything Bagel” seasoning — a point that was mocked by viewers in the comments.  

“Cultural appropriation — it just leaves you with a watered-down version of the original. Both literally and figuratively,” Soogia said.

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