Ready-to-eat lunch foods rising in popularity during farming season in North Korea

agricultural practices
Efforts to mechanize agricultural practices in North Korea have featured heavily in North Korean state media. Image: DPRK Today

As North Korea welcomes the harvest season, residents are buying more and more ready-made side dishes and other foodstuffs at local markets to pack for their lunches out in the fields, local sources report.

The spring seedling preparation and transplanting period begins in May and is followed by seed planting in the fields. Farmers in the northern part of the country sow barley or potato seeds, before planting the seeds in the fields, while picking mountain herbs and weeding the farm fields in parallel.

Food shortages have led to discussions in South Korea about sending food aid to North Korea, although serious crises like food price spikes or widespread famine have not yet arisen. North Korean residents are increasingly using local markets to buy food for lunches to eat out in the fields.

Up until the early 2000s, North Koreans packed kimchi, white radishes preserved in salt, and multigrain rice in their lunchboxes. Now, however, there is a greater proportion of white rice than grains appearing in their rice bowls (a ratio of 7:3) and a greater variety of side dishes available.

“People have to prepare their own lunches to eat during the planting season. There’s more people buying ready-made side dishes at the markets now,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK.

“Nowadays, there’s a lot more packaged food available. An increasing number of women go and buy ready-made side dishes instead of making the dishes at home late after work.”

Ready-made side dishes are selling well because they’re “exactly what busy women need” as they juggle their work and family duties, she said. Farmers who find preparing lunches too difficult or farms that want to improve their workers’ attitude to work will order black noodles (jjajangmyun), fried rice or other kinds of fast food.

“Food sellers add different kinds of marinated and fried vegetables to fried bread and sell them as lunches. They’re very popular,” a separate source in South Pyongan Province, referring to the practice of sellers adding fried rice, kimbap, and meatballs fried in egg batter to their side dishes to boost sales during the farming season.

“People can get more food at the local markets nowadays so they prefer just buying pre-made options rather than making their own meals at home. Food and beverage factories know this and are making a wide-range of processed options.”