South Korean Snacks and Sauces Find Market in North Korea Despite Import Ban

2017-01-12
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Traditional South Korean food at a trade fair in China's eastern Jiangsu Province, in file photo.
Traditional South Korean food at a trade fair in China's eastern Jiangsu Province, in file photo.
AFP

Defying prohibitions against the import of South Korean products into communist-controlled North Korea, Chinese and North Korean traders are bringing large quantities of South Korean produced foodstuffs across the border after first covering boxes with Chinese markings, sources say.

The trafficked goods include food, cooking pots and other utensils, and a wide range of special sauces, Chinese sources working on the border told RFA’s Korean Service.

“Hundreds of boxes of a famous South Korean ramen noodle brand produced at a factory in China are brought into North Korea without any restriction, as long as their labels are written in Chinese characters,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“These South Korean products are not produced at all in North Korea and are purchased mostly by restaurants in [the North Korean capital] Pyongyang.”

“Simply by removing their trademark, most South Korean food products get through customs without difficulty,” he said.

Among the most popular products brought into North Korea are sauce for Bulgogi, a Korean-style marinated and barbecued beef, and stone pots made for serving Bibimbap, a hot mixed-bowl meal of vegetables and cooked rice, sources said.

More expensive in poorer North

“We obtain orders and sell dozens of stone pots for Bibimbap, which are widely used in South Korea, to restaurants in the North,” a kitchen warehouse owner in the Chinese border city Dandong told RFA.

Also speaking to RFA, a Korean-Chinese businessman who frequently visits Pyongyang, said that high-end restaurants in the North Korean capital often have menus identical to those found in restaurants in the South.

“The only difference is the price of the food,” he said. “It is more expensive in North Korea, and you have to pay in foreign currency.”

South Korean food is in high demand in North Korea “because South Korean films circulate widely in North Korea and have a huge impact,” another source in China said.

Restaurant scenes and menus shown in South Korean movies and television shows provide “useful examples” for the managers of fine restaurants in the North, he added.

Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Hyosun Kim. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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