As part of efforts to stay afloat, street food vendors in Yanggang Province are reducing food portions while keeping prices the same, Daily NK has learned. 

A Yanggang Province-based source told Daily NK on Aug. 11 that “business had already been bad because of COVID-19” but that further restrictions on movement in the country following the return of a defector to Kaesong recently is “impacting” the sales of some products. 

According to the source, “the [portions] of food [being sold by street vendors] are decreasing by a lot.”

The source told Daily NK that prices of popular street food – including soybean injogogibap (rice with fake meat), dububap (tofu on rice), rice cakes and sundae (blood sausages) – are the same, but portion sizes have been cut in half. For example, injogogibap was reportedly made up of about 15 centimeters of artificial meat along with around seven centimeters of rice last year, but each portion now has only about 10 centimeters of artificial meat and far less rice.

“It’s normal for prices to drop when the portions are reduced,” the source explained. “But the prices are still the same, so people buying these foods often do a double take and have to look again at the prices.” A serving of injogogibap is still around KPW 500, similar to what it was in the past, according to the source. 

Images of North Korea’s injogogibab.

Injogogi involves squeezing the oil out of soybeans to make “soybean cakes” that feel similar to meat when chewed. The food first appeared during the famine period of the mid-1990s, and it has remained popular among North Koreans since then. 

“Everyone likes injogogibap,” the source said, adding, “Vendors know how consumers think about the food, so they have boldly reduced their portion sizes by half.” 

Street food vendors have likely adopted these “cost adjustments” as their customer bases have declined due to the country’s wider economic stagnation. The vendors may also be unable to raise prices because of the falling purchasing power of ordinary North Koreans. 

“In this situation, [vendors] could have sold injogogibap at higher prices, but this would have been a difficult choice to make given the poor market conditions,” the source said. “They seem to have determined that raising prices would only reduce sales even further.” 

The source noted, however, that “people are disappointed when they see the reduced portion sizes, which is perhaps why naengmyeon [cold noodles] is more popular than injogogibap or dububap this year.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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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.