This is “NK Market Trends,” bringing you
weekly updates on the North Korean economy. This week we sat down with reporter
Kang Mi Jin to discuss the latest trends; but first, let’s take a look at how
the jangmadang [market] has been doing.
We’ll begin by providing a rundown on the
price of rice, the currency conversion rates, and the cost of other goods in
North Korean markets. The price of 1 kg of rice was 5,100 KPW in Pyongyang,
5,100 KPW in Sinuiju and 5,500 KPW in Hyesan. The USD was trading at 8,150 KPW
in Pyongyang, 8,200 KPW in Sinuiju, and 8,025 KPW in Hyesan.
Moving along, the cost of 1 kg of corn kernels was
1,900 KPW in Pyongyang and Sinuiju and 2,000 KPW in Hyesan. One kg of pork was
selling at 13,500 KPW in Pyongyang and 14,000 KPW in both Sinuiju and Hyesan.
Gasoline was trading at 9,300 KPW per kg in Pyongyang and Sinuiju and at 8,500
KPW per kg in Hyesan. Finally, 1 kg of diesel fuel was selling at 5,200 KPW in
Pyongyang and 5,100 KPW in Sinuiju and Hyesan. This has been a rundown on North
Korea’s latest market prices.*
1. There have been some changes introduced
to the jangmadang in North Korea of late. If you’d be so kind, could you
elaborate a bit on these changes?
An inside source has informed us that there
have been a few key changes. Among these is a partial reduction in the
cost of goods. We’ve also caught words that there have been crackdowns on
products smuggled from South Korea, which are known to be the goods that the
regime detests above all others. We’ve also learned that in large cities, the
jangmadang are being transformed into agricultural markets. With this, we’ve
seen the appearance of livestock stalls in the markets. I think this might be
the biggest change of all.
2. Is this the first time we’ve seen these
livestock stalls in the jangmadang? Can you explain a little bit about how
these stalls started springing up?
First of all, most major cities in North
Korea have both a large jangmadang and also a few small ones. According to our
sources, the Pyongsong Market’s sign was changed to “Deoksan Agricultural
Market,” last month. This is important because Pyongsong Market is North
Korea’s largest wholesale market. All the wholesalers go there to trade their
Along with this name change, we also saw
the introduction of livestock stalls. People are reacting positively to the
introduction of these stalls. In the past, Pyongsong residents had to go to the
outskirts of the city to get something as simple as a rabbit, now such
things are easily purchased right in the market. This should usher in increased
convenience for most residents. So it comes as welcome news.
At this point, Deoksan Agricultural Market
is the only Pyongsong market to officially unveil the new livestock stalls, but
other places such as Munhwa Market and Bonghwa Market have a new sectioned off
area where it’s possible to purchase some chickens or rabbits. Yangkang
Province has seen a similar development. Out of five Hyesan markets, only the
Yeonbong Market has officially introduced the livestock stalls.
By extrapolating from some of these
sources, we’re guessing that each major city is getting one market each which
contains the new livestock stalls. We hope to be able to continue compiling
sources in the near future to ascertain the accuracy of that guess. At any
rate, the fact that meat and livestock have become more readily available for
city residents is a positive turn of events. We anticipate that as families
start to incorporate more and more ingredients from the stalls into more recipes,
the livestock stalls will become increasingly busy.
3. I’m curious what kind of livestock is
available in North Korea and what kind of meat products tend to sell the best.
Mainly, we see a lot of chicken, duck,
rabbit, and pork. Nearby farms and households have been raising livestock for
their personal needs or for sale. These people are now taking that livestock to
the city markets for sale. The most popular meats are chicken and rabbit.
And the demand for rabbits is up these days, since students need to give two
rabbits apiece to the regime as part of the loyalty foreign currency movement.
Poor families buy baby bunnies and raise
them for a few months before giving them up, while the well-off families simply
purchase a fat rabbit at the market and give it. I believe that while some
houses struggle to contribute the rabbits, in general the livestock stalls will
give some much needed support to families who struggle to make ends meet.
Our inside sources that chickens are
selling especially well right now. This is due to the fact that wives and
mothers are eager to help their kids and husbands beat the heat by making a
kind of chicken soup called dalk-gom. Puppies and baby pigs are also for sale.
We hear that piglets are most popular around spring and autumn. Food stocks are
usually low during those seasons. I only have a limited time to confer with my
sources, so I have to regrettably inform you that I didn’t have an opportunity
to ask about specific prices, but I definitely plan to do so next time around.
4. The introduction of the livestock stalls
represent a big boost in convenience for the residents. Why do you think the
Kim Jong Un regime is deciding to expand the markets in this way?
Yes, of course we would be foolish to think
that these market expansions are simply manifestations of the regime’s desire
to help the people. I think there is an economic reason. Every time the regime
relaxed controls on the markets, they saw an increase in the number of stalls.
Kim Jong Un wants a more liberal marketplace than his father did, but he still
wants strict controls. The authorities also see the markets as a way to gain
loyalty, and as a way for Kim Jong Un to be looked at as a man of the people.
The authorities also collect on the stall fees, netting them a handsome profit.
In this way, they kill two birds with one stone.
5. We’ve heard that the means of
transportation are in really poor shape in North Korea. How are the vendors
going to be able to ship their livestock to and from the market?
Yes, that’s a fair point. The truth is that
transportation infrastructure is in a very sorry state. But after the
1990s Arduous March, a devastating famine, North Korean residents got in the
habit of figuring these sorts of problems out through sheer determination. This
is also the foundation of the resident’s mistrust towards the entire Kim
family. Residents will work these problems out as best they can. For the
smaller animals, bikes and hand carriers will do. For some of the larger
animals, some residents are even using plows as a means of transport. The
really poor families are using simple backpacks or carrying the loads on their
We’ve also heard reports that some of the
livestock stall vendors are getting funny looks from passersby. That’s because
their animals make quite a racket in the market, disturbing those in the area.
For this reason, the livestock stalls have all been put in a remote corner at
Pyongsong’s Deoksan Agricultural Market, forcing customers to wander about
searching for the animals. While it is definitely a disturbance to the other
vendors, we can understand why the livestock sellers would want a more central
After enduring the Arduous March and the
2009 currency redenomination, residents have become tough and battle tested. I
am waiting for the day when the regime begins in earnest to address the needs
of its people. When I was a child, I also had to provide the rabbits for the
loyalty foreign currency movement a number of times. Since there were no
rabbits for sale at the local markets, I had to walk a great distance and carry
them back in a backpack.
6. I am curious if the different regions
have different prices or types of animals available in the livestock stall. Can
you tell us a bit about that?
We have gotten reports that there are
regional differences in the price and availability of livestock. North Hamkyung
Province has seen high activity with regards to the sale and purchase of geese.
Yangkang Province has so many pig farms that baby pigs go for quite a cheap
price, according to an inside source. It’s probable that chicken is very cheap
in Pyongsong market.
The conditions and circumstances of the
different regions are having a large effect on the cost of livestock available
there. In places like Hyesan, geese are being sold at high prices. But they are
going for much cheaper in nearby Geomsan-ri, so some Hyesan residents have been
making their way down to Geomsan-ri to take advantage of the cheap prices,
according to a source.
7. You mentioned earlier that moms have
been treating their children and husbands to a chicken soup called dalk-gom.
I’ve never heard of such a dish. Can you explain what dalk-gom is?
Now that summer has started in earnest,
people employ all manner of methods to beat the heat. Eating a traditional food
is a great way to do so. In South Korea, most people will automatically think
of a chicken soup dish called sam-gye-tang. I haven’t seen or eaten dalk-gom
since defecting years ago.
It’s a bit different from sam-gye-tang
because it isn’t made by boiling the chicken in water. Instead, the chicken is
stuffed with glutinous rice, chestnut, and jujube. It’s then put in a
ceramic pot and then into a cast iron kiln. After about two hours of cooking,
the grease will seep down into the rice and the skin will be crispy and shiny.
It provides a lot more food than sam-gye-tang because of the oils and the rice.
So unlike sam-gye-tang, it’s not really possible to finish a whole one off in
one sitting. The oils preserve it so you can eat it the next day without having
to worry about it spoiling.
When I lived in North Korea, I used to
prepare dalk-gom for my husband. I would sometimes even prepare five chickens
at once. North Korean women have to take good care of their men. They have to
save very little food for themselves, but spare no expense and cook a lavish
meal for their families. However, I’ve heard that it’s becoming a bit more
common for the wives to eat dalk-gom with their husbands in this current
generation. That comes as quite good news for the country’s women.
a food that’s an even better nutritional substitute that dalk-gom. In South Korea, it is referred to as
bo-sin-tang, or dog meat soup. In the farming villages, chicken and dog meat is
easy enough to come by, but the residents in the cities really need the
livestock stalls in order to provide these delectable dishes for their families
in this hot, hot summer. Women feel a sense of duty and responsibility to
provide that. The new stalls are helping them do so in a more convenient
8. I can see now that the introduction of
livestock stalls has brought in a sense of convenience and increased the
resident’s ability to procure food. Should we expect to see these stalls
continue to pop up all over the country?
Unfortunately, I think that is unlikely. I
think it’s preferable to have a solution that solves resident’s food security
problems consistently. Raising livestock is time intensive and difficult work.
So I don’t think we have any guarantees that the number of livestock stalls is
going to increase.
Compared to the 1990s and early 2000s,
residents now have many diverse ways of making money. So there are less and
less people interested in getting into that business. The rural regions are
naturally a bit different. Other types of trade is more difficult in those
remote areas so livestock has been the traditional means of holding and
transferring wealth. I think those regions will continue to prefer raising
livestock as a safe and prosperous business.
I wish the best of luck to all the women
struggling in North Korea to provide their families with these important meals.
I hope they are all sitting down with their husbands at the table to enjoy the
fruits of their labor!
*This segment reflects market conditions for the week of July 5th-12th.