North Koreans enjoy black bean noodles at work and play

Instant black bean noodles produced in North Korea. Image: Daily NK

Black bean noodle (jjajangmyeon) is one of South Korea’s most famous fast foods. The dish is especially popular amongst children, with families often heading out to Chinese restaurants on weekends or ordering it on mobile apps. Instant black bean noodles have also appeared on supermarket shelves, so they can be eaten easily at home or at a convenience store.

Just a couple of years ago, however, black bean noodles were quite rare in North Korea. It was a delicacy that was available in Pyongyang, with people visiting the capital enjoying cold noodle soup at Okryukwan and Hyangmanru’s black bean noodles.

Black bean noodles soon became popular from around 2010. North Koreans can now have the noodles delivered to their door. Deliveries of food have been increasing in North Korea over the winter, with patrons also purchasing plastic-wrapped noodles at the market and making black bean noodles at home.

The noodles have also made an appearance in areas where people have been mobilized to collect manure as part of the “battle” to achieve the goals set out in Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Address. In short, the dish is popular amongst the working class.

“Both city and rural residents are participating in large numbers in the manure battle which started in early January,” said a South Hamgyong Province-based source. “People have to prepare lunch boxes for food during their time on the farms. Nowadays, however, food can be delivered quickly and easily with just one call to the restaurant, so people order black bean noodles to eat.”

“People participating in the first battle of the new year had their packed lunches freeze, and had to heat them up, which was a huge pain,” said the source. “They now just order black bean noodles, ddensin (a fried dish), and dumplings with rice.”

“Workers in the manure battle are increasingly opting for food delivered from black bean noodle restaurants, and the restaurants are now getting ahead of the game by finding out orders beforehand and preparing all the ingredients,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK.

“Black bean noodles are generally delivered with noodles and sauce separately. People will light a fire and heat it up to warm themselves. The sauce has some pork in it, which everyone likes.”

One bowl of black bean noodles costs around 5,000 KPW, and payments are sometimes handled by those who are not participating in the manure battle.

North Korean black bean noodles contain pork, potatoes and fermented soybean paste, so it is considered healthier than most other fast foods.

North Koreans take the manure they have gathered up in early winter to the farms and check their quotas. Most people have difficulty meeting their own quotas, so they supplement what they’ve gathered with fungus and peat. This is usually done as a group in the mountains. People working in the mountains order black bean noodles as an easy way to eat in a place that’s typically difficult to get food.

“Deliveries arrive at around 2-3 PM after the order is taken in the morning, so most people just work a little later to fulfill their quotas. They completely finish their bowls of noodles because they’re so hungry,” said a source in Ryanggang Province.

“State organizations and enterprises along with the Socialist Women’s Union of Korea and inminbans (people’s unit, a type of neighborhood watch) have all been mobilized this year so there’s a lot of competition among the restaurants to get orders. The restaurants provide a bit more food than normal in the hope they will get repeat business.”

Presenters in the “North Korean Product Review” broadcast who tasted North Korean packaged black bean noodles obtained by Unification Media Group noted that “North Korean instant black bean noodles have a strong taste of Chinese spices, but also taste as good as South Korean black bean noodles.”

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Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.