Faced with economic uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some North Korean street food vendors are taking out certain ingredients and reducing the portion sizes of the food they are selling, Daily NK has learned. 

A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK in a phone call on Mar. 29 that “the portion sizes of street food sold in areas like Chongjin and Hoeryong have been halved in the past month,” adding that “some street food vendors have also doubled their prices.” 

Soybean-based artificial meat (injogogibap), tofu on rice (dububap) and wheat bread are prominent street foods in the country. However, according to the source, the size of the portions, which have become extremely small even as prices increase, has made people reluctant to eat street food.

Street food vendors in North Korean markets have reduced portion sizes since August of last year. This was in response to the country’s economic stagnation and falling purchasing power on the part of consumers. Vendors, however, did not move to raise prices of their dishes, at least at the time. 

Starting in March, however, there have been clear signs that food vendors have moved to increase their prices. Injogogibap, dububap and wheat bread – all of which previously cost KPW 500 – have now doubled in price to KPW 1,000.

A Daily NK source recently snapped this photo of nongmaguksu without the egg included. / Image: Daily NK

Some vendors have taken a different tack: lowering their prices, but cutting portion sizes by half and taking out “key ingredients.” For example, nongmaguksu, which is a potato-based noodle dish enjoyed by people in the country’s northern regions, has fallen in price from KPW 5,000 to KPW 3,000, but is being sold without eggs – a primary ingredient in the dish. 

All these efforts on the part of vendors, however, have had no clear impact on their bottom lines. The number of North Koreans eating street food has “decreased, leading street food vendors to have [an even] more difficult time,” according to the source. 

“Due to COVID-19 disease control measures and restrictions on movement, an increasing number of people can’t even earn KPW 5,000 a day,” the source said. “Who would buy noodles for KPW 3,000 in that kind of situation?”

The source further explained that “as a result, people running [street] food businesses are disappearing one by one” and “many people are saying that street food stalls will disappear completely if this situation continues.”

*Translated by Vilde Olaussen

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