Shin Ramyun, Ramen of Choice in North Korea

An immensely popular brand of South Korean packet ramen, Nong Shim’s “Shin Ramyun” is catching on in a big way with affluent shoppers, says a source in North Pyongan Province whom Daily NK spoke with on the 2nd.

In North Korea, ramen is known as “curly noodles.” Compared to corn noodles, ramen has a smoother texture and a tastier soup, so those who try it once tend to end up preferring the curly kind. North Korean citizens also think that ramen in general has more seasoning than simple noodles, so ramen is preferable. Among curly noodle brands, Shin Ramyun, with its high quality and excellent taste, is much more popular than equivalent Chinese products.

The source explained the economic backdrop to the rise of Shin Ramyun in the jangmadang, “Currently, cup or instant bowl ramen cost in the region of 3,500 won in the jangmadang, while package ramen is around 2,500.”

2,500 won is approximately half the monthly salary of a North Korean worker. However, among officials and the affluent classes, the social status associated with consuming luxurious, hard-to-get and expensive South Korean Shin Ramyun rather than common Chinese ramen influences purchasing decisions. Needless to say, average citizens also show a great appetite for consuming South Korean Shin Ramyun whenever they have some extra cash. As a result, Shin Ramyun has acquired the nickname “money ramen!”

That said, the source commented, “Chinese ramen is slightly more affordable, but the difference is not particularly huge. People think that since they are going to eat ramen, they would rather consume South Korean ramen, which has a higher quality and is not a great deal more expensive.”

The source said that Shin Ramen is particularly popular in Pyongyang, Pyongsung and Hyesan, Yangkang Province where there is a large, permanent market.

South Korean “Shin Ramyun” first came to the attention of ordinary North Koreans in the early 21st Century after a variety called “Pochangmacha” was included in a South Korean aid donation.

A big market breakthrough occurred in 2004, when an explosion occurred in Yongcheon. South Korea sent Shin Ramyun in bulk as a part of its emergency aid donation, leading to the appearance of this type of noodles in the jangmadang.

The amount of Shin Ramyun which came into North Korea at the time exceeded 30,000 boxes. Since one box contained 20 packages, 600,000 packages entered the country. Among these, a majority went to the military, but the amount which trickled down from the military to the jangmadang was significant.

Citizens visiting relatives in China also occasionally returned with Shin Ramyun among the standard Chinese brands and, due to its superiority of texture and flavor, the former inevitably grew in popularity.

Once Shin Ramyun’s excellence became widely known among the privileged classes, people started giving it to superiors as gifts, and once merchants spotted this burgeoning opportunity for profit Shin Ramyun began to cross the border regularly and appear in the jangmadang in significant quantities.

For some reason, North Korean customs initially failed to regulate this trade, despite the fact that the packaging was printed in Korean.

Paradoxically, the reason for the current added surge in the popularity of Shin Ramyun among the populace may have to do with the fact that the North Korean authorities’ did finally put it on a list of items prohibited for sale in the jangmadang in 2007. Subsequently, demand just grew stronger. Merchants started selling Shin Ramyun on the quiet, and demand for it substantially exceeded supply as its popularity kept on rising.”

“Customs also designated Shin Ramyun a target for regulation, so now most of the Shin Ramyun which appears in the jangmadang is smuggled in,” the source explained, “The latest smuggling trend is Shin Ramyun!”