Unification Media Group (UMG): The long, hot weather causes a lot of us to think about our health. Health foods are becoming increasingly popular in North Korea’s markets. Today, we’ll be talking about health foods in North Korea with reporter Kang Mi Jin.
Reporter Kang Mi Jin (Kang): Malbok (the last of the three days marking the hottest period of the year) took place on August 11. Korean people traditionally focus on taking care of their vitality on these days. I ate samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) with my family on the first day of the period. If my family were still in North Korea, we would have eaten dog meat but because we’re in South Korea now, we ate samgyetang.
In fact, North Korean residents mostly eat dog meat as a health food in the summer. So dog meat prices rise this time of year in the markets. Residents say that, ‘Even a drop of dog meat soup will boost your health on the hottest day of summer.’ In recent days, there are reportedly many residents who are looking for mutton as well. You can easily see people seeking out various kinds of meat for consumption during summer at the markets.
UMG: In South Korea, the samgyetang restaurants are filled with customers on the hottest days of summer, and chickens sell like hotcakes in the shops. Is this similar in North Korea?
North Korean people also prepare health foods for themselves and their family. In South Korea, people visit samgyetang restaurants or cook it themselves at home. Some North Koreans living in the cities will also go to restaurants, but most people cook it at home.
A North Korean resident told me that they prefer to eat dog meat or dog meat soup rather than chicken. They said they bought the meat in the markets to eat with their family. I could feel their jubilation on the phone.
UMG: Is there any special reason why North Koreans prefer dog meat soup over samgyetang?
Kang: Unlike South Korea, which has good system of circulation for foodstuffs, North Korean people often cannot acquire the goods they wants to buy at the markets. Due to power shortages, some products that need refrigeration for long periods of time are difficult to purchase unless they’re in season. The basic ingredients for boiled chicken soup include chestnuts, jujube, and ginseng. But it’s hard to find chestnuts in North Korean markets because they need to be stored in a refrigerator. Ginseng is also hard to purchase in other regions, except for Kaesong, where it’s grown. Additionally, as North Koreans mostly feed their chickens with grass in summer, they say that chicken isn’t very nutritious.
When I was living in North Korea, I used to eat dog meat soup in summer, chicken soup in autumn, and rabbit meat in winter with my family.
UMG: Can you tell us more about the seasonal health foods North Koreans eat, and how they make it?
Kang: First of all, North Koreans mostly favor dog meat soup. You boil the dog meat without any other ingredients for more than two hours, then add dried radish greens or cabbage and boil again for 30 minutes. You can separately add salt or red pepper powder according to personal preference. Some people also like to make jerky with dog meat. You mix the boiled dog meat with starch syrup to make it. This is said to be especially nutritious for weak and unhealthy people.
For chicken soup, you fill the trimmed chicken with 120g-150g of soaked rice and add two or three chestnuts and jujubes. As ginsengs are rare, most people add only the fragrance of ginseng. I don’t know why exactly, but in some regions, people add peach leaves to the chicken soup.
Most chicken soup contains a whole chicken. Unlike South Korean samgyetang which is made of small chickens, North Korean people use at least one-year-old chickens to make the soup. A chicken is usually said to weigh between 2.3-2.5 kg.
Rabbit meat is added to soaked rice with milkvetch root and black beans. It’s another common health food in North Korea. In recent days, it’s said that increasing numbers of residents are eating lamb and goat as health foods as well. North Koreans generally didn’t like mutton in the past due to its distinctive smell. But recently, methods for masking the smell have spread among the residents, so now they’re starting to eat more lamb.
UMG: Can you tell us about the prices of summer health foods in North Korea?
Kang: From the rich upper class to poorer people who have to make a living through hard work, all residents try to eat health foods according to what they can afford. Wealthy people living in Pyongsong City, which has the largest wholesale market in North Korea, are said to mostly purchase lamb, and some of them purchase beef as well. Lamb is selling at 37,000 KPW per kilo. Dog meat is being sold at 17,000 – 20,000 KPW.
Chicken prices vary according to the breed. Normally, white-feathered chickens cost about 10,000 KPW, native Korean chickens cost about 15,000, and black chickens cost about 20,000 KPW. This is because most residents believe that the Korean native and black varieties are superior in nutritional content.
In addition, duck is also becoming popular these days as North Korean people are saying that duck meat is good for health. One kilo of duck at the Hyesan market in Ryanggang Province costs 13,000 KPW, a rise of 1,500 KPW compared to spring time. Most of the beef is imported from China, and is being sold at prices ranging from 28,000 to 31,000 KPW per kilo.
UMG: Thank you for sharing the information. Lastly, we will take a look at other North Korean market prices.