Street market in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province rice sellers dollar rate
FILE PHOTO: North Koreans are seen peddling goods at a street market in Hyesan, Yanggang Province. (Daily NK)

Amid skyrocketing food prices due to the closure of the country’s borders and smuggling routes, North Korea’s market vendors have responded to the falling purchasing power of North Koreans by selling food items in smaller portions than usual.

According to a Daily NK source in North Korea on Monday, many market vendors now sell Chinese soybean oil — previously sold in one kilogram bottles — in units of 100 or 200 grams, dividing it up into small cups. Some sellers even sell 50 gram cups of oil.  

The source said that, as of June 3, 100 grams of Chinese soybean oil sold for KPW 3,500 in one Pyongyang market. This is quite expensive given that one kilogram of oil costs around KPW 30,000.

Nevertheless, people suffering from economic hardship prefer cheaper, smaller portions over bulk purchases, the source said. 

There is also an increasing number of people buying sugar in smaller units of 100 or 200 grams, rather than in larger one kilogram units. Even 500 gram units of sugar are popular, he added. 

Daily NK found that, as of June 3, 100 grams of sugar cost KPW 2,800 in Pyongyang. Price-wise, consumers are better off buying one kilogram of sugar yet many people are purchasing smaller portions of sugar instead. 

Other imported food items that have grown scarce in North Korean markets since the border closure — including black pepper, sesame seeds and sesame oil — are also being sold in small portions in Pyongyang’s markets.

Market vendors in Pyongsong, Sinuiju and other major cities are selling Chinese-made food items in smaller portions as well. 

In the wake of falling purchasing power among consumers, there has also been the reappearance in markets of low-quality food items that sold poorly in the past, the source said. 

For example, the small amount of oil that results from making artificial meat (injogogi; made out of soybeans) is now being collected to sell in markets as “oil from artificial meat production.”

This oil is of low-quality and not particularly suitable for cooking, but many people buy it anyway because it is cheap, the source said. 

“People have nothing to eat and less and less money to spend, which has led market [sellers] to find self-reliant ways to get by,” he said, adding, “With smuggling stopped and the border closure continuing, daily necessities have grown scarce. People are nonetheless finding ways to survive.” 

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.