If you’re like me, the prospect of going abroad always holds a bit of a weight in the back of your mind as you worry about what you’re going to be able to eat over there. And so begins the research into what the main diet is of the country, what the attitudes are towards being vegan or vegetarian, and if they’re going to understand English – after which the frantic buying and packing of various snacks begins.
How do you begin when you’re planning your trip to North Korea; a country visited by few foreigners, and even fewer vegans? North Korea may not be renowned for its vegan-friendly cuisine, and you definitely won’t be able to use HappyCow there. However, fear not! YPT has you covered. Allow our guide to being a vegan in North Korea shed more light on your journey to North Korea.
North Korean Cuisine
North Korea cuisine is known to lay on a grand spread of poultry, red meat and fish. A typical meal will often involve a variety of small dishes all shared by everyone. Lots of Asian style meals such as noodle soups and stir-fries, with general spicy and oily vibes. However, amongst this, you’ll also find that a valuable part of every meal is vegetables and tofu in all shapes and sizes!
Despite the heavy meat and fish consumption, there are a number of things you’ll be able to eat, and will actually be really pleasantly surprised about.
Vegan meals during your tour
During your booking process we ask what are your dietary requirements; whether it’s vegetarian, vegan, pescetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, other allergies or certain religious restrictions. This way we are able to prepare your meals accordingly from the restaurants we dine out during your tour.
You don’t need to worry about any language barriers since all YPT guides can communicate for you and make sure strict dietary requirements are being adhered to. Because meals and places to dine at are already planned ahead, you don’t really get a chance to be fussy. There’s always a wide variety of things to choose from, some of which you may have to leave since you’ve filled up on everything else! If by some chance you do feel yourself wanting more, let your guide know and we can make sure to prepare some extra stuff or get extras of a certain dish for the table.
With most meals, there’s usually tofu, bean sprouts, carrots, pak choi, and various potato dishes. If we go for Korean hotpot there’s also a non-meat non-egg option, and at barbecue restaurants there’s a lot of vegetable options there too! Other dishes include Pyongyang cold noodles and the tasty Korean Bibimbap.
You should also be aware that the majority of meals will be shared with other tour group members on your table who will most likely be tucking into all kinds of meat and fish. This will most likely be constantly passed around the table. It’s important to be prepared for this, and consider being tolerant as it is their holiday too.
Get your vegan taste-buds tingling!
North Korean Kimchi
Alas, Kimchi may not be one of those things you’ll be able to enjoy. This tasty fermented cabbage side-dish is sweeter, and less spicy than its South Korean counterpart and can be found everywhere and is eaten with every meal. Seriously. Kimchi galore. This would be great if we could eat it. Unfortunately, it’s usually made with fish paste.
So now you’re left with the decision of how strict you’re wanting to be. I know many vegans who would gasp at the fact that I’m even suggesting the fact that it’s possibly okay to eat something that contains fish. Of course, a vegan diet allows strictly no fish. Everyone understands this. And not only does it not allow fish – but you probably don’t want to be eating anything containing fish. But it’s good to know the facts and you can make your own judgements from here.
Try this dish because you’re curious about a traditional local dish, or eat it during your time in North Korea if you feel like you’re very limited or simply stay clear of it.
Attitudes towards vegans
Just as in any foreign country where veganism hasn’t yet made its debut, North Koreans will be very interested as to why you don’t eat meat. It’s important to be respectful of their culture. Understanding that meat is a big part of it, but at the same time explaining your views and having a good discussion with them is always a good start. You may be the first vegan they’ve ever met, and they may not have considered any of your beliefs before. Just don’t expect too much in return – it’s still a very alien concept to them.
It’s also important to note that the DPRK is a developing country. If there is a mix-up or you’re unsure whether something is vegan or not, refusing or leaving food because of a dietary choice is up to you. However, do make sure that you’re polite about this and don’t make it into a big deal.
With a wide variety of things on the menu, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about bringing a lot snacks or munchies with you. If you’re taking the overnight sleeper train, bringing snacks and various foods is an absolute must. However, in the DPRK you’ll be kept well fed. You may wish to bring some snacks with you for a bit of added nutrition/variation in your diet, especially if you’re coming on tour for a long time.
Breakfast bars, nuts and seeds to nibble on during the day, and chocolate (of course) are all staples I like to take with me. Don’t worry, this doesn’t have to take up your entire luggage allowance. Just a few bits and bobs will do, and you might not even need them.