A Country of Hidden Nourishment: Uncovering North Korea’s Nutritious Food Culture
Imagine a country where the average citizen has little to no access to food. Scary, right? For much of the western world, that’s difficult to imagine given the abundance of food we have on our grocery store shelves, but there are countries all over the world with their own unique food culture and struggles with nourishment that may not be so obvious if you haven’t lived it yourself.
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While the world often casts a negative light on North Korea, its food culture is actually quite fascinating—and nutritious! The average North Korean diet consists of three meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And although snacks are not typically part of the culture, they are becoming more popular among the younger generation. All meals are typically fresh and locally sourced, with an emphasis on seasonality. The most common lunch dish is rice, which is often served with vegetables and a protein such as chicken or fish. Breakfast usually consists of simple items such as eggs or porridge, while dinner is typically a heavier meal. Despite the relatively small size of North Korea, its cuisine is quite diverse and offers something for everyone to enjoy.
The most well-known aspect of Korean cuisine is bibimbap. Made with a variety of vegetables, rice, pickled radish and egg, it’s commonly served as a lunch item along with soup and kimchi (which usually comes in many different varieties). The combination is delicious and offers something for everyone! My personal favorite, however, is Pyongyang naengmyeon. This dish typically consists of noodles topped with sliced meat, veggies, sauce and ice that come together for a refreshing combination you can only find in North Korea.
But what about snacks? That’s where things get interesting…With no traditional snack culture to speak of, Koreans have started to embrace these Western-style treats.
Despite what we see in the media, North Koreans have access to fresh and nutritious food. In fact, the country is known for its diverse and tasty cuisine. Here are some interesting facts about the country’s food culture:
-The average North Korean adult consumes around 2,000 calories per day.
-Rice is the staple grain, and most meals are served with it.
-There is a strong focus on plant-based foods, with Pyongyang leading the way in terms of vegetarian options.
-Seafood is also popular, with kimchi (a fermented cabbage dish) often being made with fish.
-Meat dishes are usually reserved for special occasions.
-Vegetarianism is on the rise, with two thirds of restaurants offering meat-free options.
-Popular dishes include bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables and meat), naengmyeon (cold noodles) and seolleongtang (beef soup).
It is no secret that the citizens of North Korea are some of the most malnourished in the world. What is lesser known, however, is that the country actually has a thriving food culture – one that is hidden from the outside world. Dairy products play a big role in North Korean cuisine, and are considered to be both tasty and nutritious. Milk, cheese, and yogurt are all staples in the North Korean diet.
Lard and meat fats also find their way into Korean food, but it’s a less important aspect of their cuisine. Fish is plentiful, both in terms of availability and popularity, in many regions along North Korea’s rivers. Rural North Koreans spend much of their time fishing. In most cases, they don’t kill fish that are intended for food – usually only certain kinds can be eaten. Therefore, catching a fish alive and keeping it healthy until it can be released unharmed back into its habitat often takes time; some fishermen keep their catch in small pens until they are ready to eat it.
Sharing meals : It is an integral part of family culture and tradition to eat together, particularly in more rural areas where families depend on each other to survive. Many people consider it rude not to share their food with family members and friends. Sharing meals is one way that North Koreans show their appreciation for others and maintain close ties with friends and family, which is especially important in light of a housing shortage that has separated many families over recent years. Their homes are typically small (of a size not unlike American closets) so when guests come over it can be hard to find space for everyone to sit down at once, but serving them food provides a solution to avoid awkward situations or hurt feelings.
Meat and Fish
Despite what we might see in the media, North Koreans actually consume a fair amount of meat and fish. In fact, many families keep chickens and pigs in their yards to supplement their diet. Fish is also commonly consumed, both fresh and dried. The most popular meats are pork and chicken, followed by beef.
Unsurprisingly, fish is a major part of North Korean cuisine. There are numerous types available, with freshwater fish being particularly popular in rivers and streams. Typical freshwater fish include carp, catfish and pike. Because fresh water can’t always be trusted to be potable, much effort goes into making sure that it is cleaned thoroughly prior to use. This makes things like kukh mori (water-boiled fish) a common dish that you’ll find on any menu in Pyongyang or other cities with access to clean water. Similarly, poktanju (cold boiled chicken) is another popular dish across restaurants around North Korea due to how easy it is to prepare.
Though often thought of as a country with little to no food, North Korea actually has a thriving agricultural industry. The mainstay vegetables in the North Korean diet are rice, potatoes, soybeans, and cabbage. These vegetables are often grown in small family gardens and are picked fresh daily. Meals usually consist of a simple dish of rice and vegetables, but are surprisingly filling and nutritious.
Rice is a large part of most meals in North Korea. To combat food shortages, researchers have developed strains that are more resilient to different weather conditions and thus, allow for a steadier yield. Since rice is so valuable to their diet, North Koreans do not use soy sauce or other seasonings on it as they would with their vegetables. It’s usually eaten plain with a side dish like kimchi (fermented cabbage) or soup.
Meat & Poultry: Though often supplemented by fish and tofu, meat is not a common addition to meals in North Korea—only 1% of households consume beef or pork regularly and there are several days each year when meat isn’t served at all!