So, what is North Korean food like? On both sides of the DMZ, Korean food is known for its emphasis on spice. Although the two countries differ hugely in daily diet, they are united by this common cultural tradition. It often poses a unique, but positive challenge for westerners who try it for the first time. Travelling to North Korea of course, is jumping in the deep end with this. Unlike Seoul, there are no western “comfort food” McDonalds’ or KFCs to run to. Instead, your guides have every meal pre-ordered and arranged for you. Whilst they are sensitive to your dietary needs (such as Vegetarianism), it essentially means when visiting the DPRK you’ve got to be prepared to try new things! Still, there’s a range of things and dishes you might have whilst Visiting North Korea, let’s have a look at some of them!
Due to its proximity to the sea and agricultural struggles in past years, North Korean food places great emphasis on fish. As a result, in various restaurants and hotels, fish and other seafood become a regular dishes. This is the most common form of meat found in the country due to little land available for lifestock and two seas sitting at either side. It may be cooked in a number of forms, sometimes even fried. One thing that has happened several times is that being in a group with British tourists, the Yanggakdo hotel has attempted to cook “fish and chips” and gave us some fried potatoes. It was a good effort. Be prepared to be given different varieties of fish.
If you don’t know what Kim-Chi is then you’d better learn fast before you head to Korea. Kim-Chi is the most common staple food of the Korean peninsula, not least when it comes to North Korean food. It comes as a side dish with most meals. If you’re wondering what it is, Kim-Chi is cabbage picked and coated with chilli seasoning. It is strong and it is spicy. Most westerners find this one of the hardest foods to consume for the first time. I however, have grown to love Kim-Chi. It is usually distributed on a sharing dish in the middle of the table, so if you don’t like it there is no pressure to have any.
Rice dishes and Bibimbap
It is obviously a given that you would have rice in North Korea. This usually comes in the form of an individual rice bowl given to you at some point in the meal. This can be white rice or brown rice. Some restaurants in Pyongyang may also give you a Korean dish which is called a “Bibimbap“. This is a Korean rice bowl with a fried egg, spices, vegetables, beef and a special chilli paste to add into it. To eat a Bibimbap, you are to mix everything to together first to create a blend and therein creates its unique, compelling taste
There is a possibility you will be taken to Pyongyang’s hotpot restaurant, situated near Juche Tower. I expect most readers to roughly know what a hot-pot is, so I’ll just quickly go through the procedure. Here, you will be given an individual hot-pot and stove that you put meat (usually pork) and vegetables (cabbage, lettuce, mushrooms) into, creating a delicious broth like result with plenty to dig into. It’s tasty, fun and ensures an enjoyable experience
Korean Fried Chicken
Some restaurants in Pyongyang will give you Korean fried chicken. However, don’t expect a KFC variety bucket. It is fried chicken in a non-westernized style, where breadcrumbs are not used to create a delicious over-coating or seasoning. It does the job, but you’re never going to quite accept it in the way you’ve been brought up to enjoy it. Finger lickin’ good? Marshall Kim not Colonel Saunders this time.
Namul: Assorted spiced vegetables
Along with Kim-Chi, expect a number of assorted spiced vegetables, known as “Namul” to appear in your side dishes throughout your various meals. These include Soybean Sprouts, which are incredibly spicy, possible dried seaweed (Miyeok) and others. The most notable example of all these Namul assortments together is the traditional “Kaesong Lunch” (featured picture) which you get after visiting the DMZ, all of which are again, extremely spicy.
Raengmyeon- Cold Noodles
As we’re going through all of these dishes, let’s not forget of course North Korea’s most famous cuisine, Raengmyeon or better known as “cold noodles!”. As part of an organised tour, there will be several opportunities to try this dish. It consists of wheat noodles mixed into an icy broth with a vinegary touch, added with half a hard boiled egg and some vegetables. Although it sounds unusual, don’t be afraid, Naengmyeon has a sensational taste to it which makes it truly delicious!
But what about breakfast?
As you can see, you get to try out quite a variety of foods in North Korea, but how about for breakfast? In the Yanggakdo hotel at least, Breakfast for western visitors is catered to their comforts. Like any hotel, you get a machine that makes toast and there is jam and butter available. Simultaneously, a live chef cooks eggs and makes omelettes. There is also yogurt available, as well as coffee to drink. So expect a basic breakfast with no fear of stepping into anything new.
Conclusion: Be prepared to try new things!
Korean food might be unusual when you first encounter it, the spice can be a challenge, but it soon rubs off on you and you grow to love it. If you are heading to North Korea, then you should already be in a mindset to try new things and broaden your horizons, stepping out of your comfort zone. You’re already daringly challenging western stereotypes, fears and misconceptions, so the last thing you should be fearing is the food! This is your opportunity to enjoy a traditional cuisine which has largely been unscathed by globalization. Always be appreciative of what you are given to eat and remember you are being treat as their guest, literally being offered the very best of the what the country’s resources have. Happy eating!