Whilst North Korea may not be famous for its cuisine, we think that a great way to learn about a place is by exploring it with your taste buds! So, without further ado, here is YPT tour guide Matt’s top ten favourite foods from inside the “Hermit Kingdom”.
Naengmyeon or simply known as “Pyongyang Cold Noodle Soup” is a must try dish made all throughout Korea but most famously (and in this writer’s humble opinion) best made in Pyongyang. Don’t forget to add the essential ingredients of vinegar, soy sauce and hot mustard to make the mild broth exactly to your tastes. The more hot mustard induced nostril burnage the better.
Clam BBQ in Nampo
Heading to North Korea for the summer? No trip to the west coast town of Nampo is complete without trying the local specialty of BBQ clams. The secret ingredient? Spoiler alert – petrol. Watch in awe as your friendly Korean bus driver siphons mouthfuls of gasoline from the bus and into a bottle which is subsequently and expertly sprayed onto a giant concrete slab, adorned with freshly harvested and locally-farmed clams. Boom! BBQ Clams a la Nampo.
Don’t have a penchant for clams with an aftertaste of gasoline? Never fear! Korean BBQ over a smoky charcoal grill is still very much available. Most commonly found are BBQ joints serving up lamb, duck and seafood. DIY cooking, washed down with a few Taedonggang #2’s makes for a uniquely DPRK-style BBQ.
Pansangi in Kaesong
When visiting Kaesong, the city just a hop, skip and jump away from the DMZ, be sure to try a traditional Pansangi lunch. Traditionally served to royalty during the Koryo Dynasty, pansangi is a series of bronze bowls filled with various marinated meats, tofu, a variety of vegetables, kimchi and a curious acorn jelly.
Sweet Meat Soup aka Dog Soup
So, for the more extreme food explorers among us, if your pansangi lunch hasn’t quite filled you up, order the optional extra of ‘dog meat soup’. More subtly referred to as ‘sweet meat soup’, if the idea of devouring your pet pooch back home doesn’t make you lose your appetite, we say go for it!
Seafood along the coastal towns of North Korea
Whether you’re eating freshly sashimi on the pier in Wonsan or an array of fish and shellfish in Rason, North Korea’s coastal towns offer up some fantastic seafood options. Be sure to try the uniquely-flavoured delicacy sea urchin – best described as ‘being dunked under a wave in a salted caramel ocean.’
Another essential Korean dish for the uninitiated is the humble bibimbap, literally translated as “mixed rice.” Pork, kimchi, tofu, vegetables and gochujang (a chili sauce) are combined in rice and cooked at your table in a hot stone vessel. Make sure you scrape those deliciously crunchy bits of rice off the sides and don’t be scared to add more gochujang. Pictured above is a vegetarian option.
Perfect for those cold winter nights in Pyongyang, let your hotpot broth marinate in the flavours of pork, tofu and an assortment of vegetables. When eating at the famous ‘Hot Pot Restaurant’ in Pyongyang, you can add salt, pepper, chili and piles of straight-up powdered MSG (looks like salt but more crystal-y) to your own tastes.
9 Kimchi (duh)
Don’t think we forgot about Korea’s national dish, kimchi! It’s served with literally every meal you’ll eat in North Korea. If you haven’t yet got a taste for this bonafide super food of pickled and fermented cabbage, you almost certainly will after your trip to the DPRK. With every kimchi served being unique based on the tastes of its ‘kimchi master,’ be sure to take part in the kimchi lesson on our All Koreas Part 2 Tour to create your own perfectly spiced version of this national dish.
Air Koryo Burger
Last but definitely not least, the infamous “Air Koryo Burger,” allegedly the “worst airline food in the world,” but c’mon guys, seriously it’s not that bad! Bonus points if you arrive in Pyongyang and can identify the ‘mystery meat’ that makes up this intriguing culinary experience.