New hot food trends warm up the residents in frigid North Korea

[As Heard in North Korea]
Unification Media Group  |  2018-02-03 10:07

"As Heard in North Korea" articles contain radio programming content broadcast by Unification Media Group [UMG], an independent multimedia consortium targeting the North Korean people.

Unification Media Group (UMG): The frigid winter chill has returned to North Korea following a brief warmer spell. For residents of North Koreas northern alpine regions, the extreme cold can make even the simple prospect of leaving the house a frightening endeavor. To fight back against the winter frost, residents have been turning to the markets. For more, we are here with economic correspondent Kang Mi Jin.

Kang Mi Jin (Kang): North Koreans grow up with frigid winters all their lives and thus have some capacity to resist the cold, but it has been a particularly cold one this year.

This helps to explain why certain types of products have become more popular these days in the markets, like foods that warm the body from the inside out. The residents of Yanggang Province, situated along the countrys northern border with China, are dealing with particularly cold temperatures. Thankfully, there are a whole slew of products to help them battle the winter winds.

UMG: North Korean residents are facing temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius. I imagine that hot foods are really important in those types of conditions. Can you tell us more about that?

Kang: Two dishes are the most popular these days: the first is potato tteok (rice cakes), and the second is nokma noodle soup where the noodles are made with a combination of wheat flour and mung bean starch flour. These dishes are selling quite well in Ryanggang Provinces Hyesan Market, Wei Yeon Market, Yonbong Market, and Yonhung Market.        

Merchants who normally exclusively sell nokma noodle soup are also selling potato tteok and steamy tofu stew as well these days. In addition, a new service has emerged, with different merchants banding together. When a customer orders different foods from different vendors, the vendors work together to deliver the customers food to a central place with seating.    

UMG: The customers must appreciate the vendors going out of their way like that.

Kang: Yes, the generous service and the warm food makes for a comfortable, cozy environment in the markets. The residents often have to work outside, exposing them to the chilly winds, and so they eagerly pack into the markets to line up for the warm food when its time.  

Potato jeon [savory pancakes], boiled eggs, and sundae [blood sausage] vendors are working with nearby merchants like tofu rice sellers to make combination dishes. This has cheered up the merchants and livened up the atmosphere inside the market. One resident said that, Even though weve been working so strenuously for decades just to survive, its good that we at least have jeong [warm feelings and caring] towards each other.  

UMG: How about the interior regions of North Korea? Whats selling well there?

Kang: According to a resident from the Eunjung region of Pyongyang City, warm rice, warm noodle soup, and soft tofu are the most popular. However, markets in the central region have also started selling another dish: potato tteok. This is unusual because potato tteok is a regional cuisine associated with Ryanggang Province, not the central regions. Nevertheless, the dish has emerged in markets it hasnt been as popular in before, like in the industrial city of Hamhung in South Hamgyong Province and the large wholesale market in Pyongsong City, South Pyongan Province.  

Potato tteok made using methods from North Korea¯s central region. Image: Daily NK.

UMG: Im curious about the distribution and transportation of this Ryanggang Province specialty food. How do they ship it all the way to South Pyongan Province?

Kang: North Korean residents who do business are always thinking about how to squeeze out a profit. Potatoes are cheap to buy and eat in regions that they are grown in. But making potato tteok is labor intensive and difficult to turn a large profit on, especially when selling to other locals who also have access to cheap potatoes. Thats why people began to think about selling the tteok in other regions, where they can get wider profit margins.  

The tteok is frozen so it can be transported using North Koreas privately-run delivery services, called servicha. Since the entire country is cold, the frozen tteok can be sent all over the country without melting, even though the vehicles arent refrigerated. Because of the surging popularity, some merchants from other regions have even gone to Ryanggang Province to purchase large quantities of the tteok, before having it shipped to their region for sale.

UMG: Id imagine that the price of tteok varies from region to region.

Kang: Yes, thats an interesting part of the story. Contrary to expectations, pieces of tteok sells for 500-600 KPW (about US $0.07) each all over the country. One might think it would be cheaper in Ryanggang Province, where the potatoes originate from. Surprisingly, they cost the same amount. However, Ryanggang Provinces tteok does tend to be larger than the tteok sold elsewhere in the country.  

All prices shown in KPW and current as of January 23, 2018. Data: Daily NK

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