Here’s something to think about when you’re imagining life in the much discussed North Korea.
North Korea is a reclusive nation — it restricts citizens’ internet access, according to BBC News, as well as what they watch on television, says Global News. And when it comes to food, the World Food Programme’s Global Report on Food Crises 2017 determined that approximately 4.4 million people in North Korea are eating an insufficient diet.
There is a large divide between the poor and the wealthy in North Korea. The average Joe — or jin soo, if you will — earns about $1,000 to $2,000 per year. Let’s take a closer look at what North Koreans are eating on that salary — and what higher earners are able to get.
1. Boiled rice
North Koreans eat a lot of rice, according to the Los Angeles Times, much like South Koreans. When they can get it, that is. Because of the cold temperatures in North Korea, it’s difficult to grow rice, so many opt for millet and potatoes, which are more plentiful, as a daily staple.
Next: Don’t think oatmeal when you’re picturing this popular breakfast option.
2. Maize porridge
North Koreans often eat maize porridge, also known as juk, for breakfast — and snacks — according to The Daily Meal. Don’t think oatmeal when you’re picturing it, though, because typically the North Korean porridge is savory, not full of brown sugar and raisins. Porridge is easy to make — you just boil rice or another grain and add basically whatever else strikes your fancy, like veggies or seafood. It’s also easy to digest, and provides a satisfying hot meal with which to start the day.
Next: North Koreans might need Altoids for this one.
You’ve heard of it. You’ve probably smelled it in an elevator. On someone’s breath.
It’s kimchi, a mainstay of the North Korean diet. The dish consists of cabbage or cucumbers — or radishes or any other vegetable on hand — soaked in brine until they ferment, plus scallions, chilies, ginger, lots of garlic, and even bean paste sometimes. It’s a bit of an acquired taste, and North Koreans eat a lot of it, according to The Daily Meal.
Kimchi is mighty good for you, according to Health. It oozes vitamins A, B, and C and has healthy bacteria that are commonly found in fermented foods. Apparently, it helps with digestion, too. All great stuff, for sure, but man, does it wreak havoc on your breath. Have some Altoids handy if you like kimchi.
Next: North Koreans eat pig food.
OK, technically North Koreans are not out on their farms eating from the pig troughs. But they do eat injogogi, which is made from soy bean oil dregs, which usually goes to the pigs, according to Reuters. Savvy North Koreans take those dregs and roll them into a pale paste, then stuff rice into the paste and pour chili sauce on top and voila — they have a meal.
Injogogi translates to English as “man-made meat,” and has been a staple in North Korea forever. Street market vendors often serve the dish at their stalls — and barter it for other products and services, according to Reuters.
Next: Cold noodles for dinner
Raengmyun is hard to pronounce — but easy to eat. And North Koreans eat it frequently, according to The Daily Meal. Called naengmyun in South Korea, North Korea’s raengmyun translates to “cold noodles.” The noodles are made from a variety of foods, including potatoes, sweet potatoes, seaweed, wheat, and buckwheat.
North Koreans love the noodles quite chilled. They have a chewy texture and a mild broth, according to My Korean Kitchen, and are often served with mustard, vinegar, and hot pepper sauce on the side.
Next: Something you might recognize
If you’ve ever been to a Korean restaurant, you’ve likely tried bulgogi. Restaurants serve the thin, marinated beef or pork at tables and guests cook it over small stoves or charcoal grills. Although the North Korean diet is typically low in protein, according to Reuters, this is a popular dish for those who can afford it — and people usually have it in a restaurant.
Next: A popular restaurant dish
Sinseollo is another dish that North Koreans generally order when they’re out to dinner, according to The Daily Meal. They might pay anywhere from $7 to $40 for a hot pot filled with vegetables, dumplings, and possibly meat in a rich broth. Diners cook the dish themselves — over a pan of water on top of a coal fire — or in a vessel that looks like a Bundt pan with hot embers in the middle to keep the meal hot.
Next: More artificial meat
8. Injo Gogi Bap
When North Korea went through a major famine in the 1990s, this dish came about as a way to avoid wasting food, according to The Daily Meal. A popular street food in North Korea today, Injo Gogi Bap is a type of sausage made from leftover soybeans. Street vendors top the artificial meat sausages with rice and a spicy sauce.
Next: A North Korean kitchen staple
9. Bean paste
Think of bean paste in North Korea like salt here: It goes in practically everything. From dips to soups to stews, bean paste is staple ingredient, according to Maangchi. The precious paste, also known as doenjang, adds umami to dishes with its nutty, deep flavor.
Bean paste consists of blocks of ground soybean paste, dried and fermented for months, then soaked in brine for more months. The process produces a lot of liquid, which North Koreans use for soy sauce. The solids that remain make up the bean paste.
Next: Blood sausage, anyone?
Soondae is another popular street food vendors serve, according to The Daily Meal, in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang. Soondae is the North Korean take on blood sausage and it’s made by boiling pig or cow intestines and stuffing them with things like ginger, sesame seeds, rice, kimchi, barley, soybean sprouts and bean paste.
Spices might include salt, sugar, chili powder and dried shrimp. Think Japanese mochi ice cream as far as texture is concerned: The sausage is rather dense and slightly chewy.
Next: Yup — North Koreans might eat Fido.
North Koreans eat dogs, according to Newsweek. And in a 2016 interview with Munchies, Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours — a company that provides special tours of North Korea — said it’s quite the delicacy.
For those who can afford it, eating dog is still reserved for special occasions. It comes in many forms: spicy soup, ribs, and steaks. Hmmm … that begs the question, “How did North Korea decide on its national dog?” Not a single Pungsan was available for comment.
Next: Tofu rice is a North Korean fave.
Dububab means “tofu rice,” and you can find it on many tables in North Korea, according to Express. It’s child’s play to make dububab: You stuff tofu skins with rice and top them with chili sauce — and done. Because necessity is the mother of invention, dububab — a simple, inexpensive dish — came about during the North Korea famine, which lasted from 1994 to 1998.
Next: Cooking with gas — seriously
13. Gasoline clams
No list of food favorites is complete without gasoline-barbecued clams. Apparently, North Koreans love them, according to Viralnova. Another delicacy in this land of exotic foods, clams on the BBQ rank high. The recipe’s a cinch — throw clams in pit, cover clams with gasoline, light clams on fire.
But wait, there’s more: Pour two more bottles of gas over the clams in the space of about five minutes and then let the flames die. Next, ring the dinner bell: Serve up some soju — distilled rice liquor — and no one will never even taste the petrol.
Next: North Korean travelers eat mystery meat.
14. Air Koryo burger
OK, they don’t necessarily choose to eat this, but when North Koreans fly on their airline, Air Koryo, they’re served a burger that tastes a little better than a shoe, according to the Los Angeles Times. It’s consistent, however — it always arrives on a paper doily, and it’s always completely cold. What’s inside: a slice of processed cheese, something that vaguely resembles meat, a lonely piece of lettuce or cabbage and some unidentifiable squirt of “special sauce.”
The veggie selection varies a bit: Instead of the burger, you get a slice of tomato on your bun. If you have to fly on this airline, embrace your inner vegetarian.
Next: North Koreans eat pancakes, too.
Bindaetteaok is essentially a pancake, Korean-style, according to Beyond Kimchee, a website dedicated to providing authentic Korean recipes to its readers. Made from raw, unsoaked mung beans, North Koreans eat the things morning, noon, and night, usually with a spicy sauce on the side.
Additional goodies in the pancakes might include Korean wild fern, some meat, veggies, soy sauce and, of course, the ubiquitous kimchi. They’re perfect for restricted diets, too: They contain no dairy, eggs, or wheat.
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