Every week, we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
Today’s question is: What do North Koreans eat that Southerners don’t?
We eat rabbits, horses and birds in North Korea. Rabbits, especially, are the most popular delicacy for people who place importance on well-being and health. But while South Koreans turn to chickens for vitalization, Northerners choose to eat rabbits for health.
It is very rare for South Koreans to eat rabbits. I have yet to see or hear of any Southerners consuming rabbits for their meat. None of my South Koreans friends have ever tried rabbits and the idea of eating rabbits is almost inconceivable for them. But when you fall ill in North Korea, the first thing that comes to your mind is a dish of rabbit.
So, how do we cook and eat rabbits for dinner in North Korea? First, you’ve got to catch a rabbit and skin it. Second, you cut open the stomach of the rabbit and stuff the rabbit. What’s the most popular stuffing in North Korea? We most frequently place a portion of raw sticky rice in the stomach of the rabbit.
But that’s not all: we make sure to add ginseng to the stuffing. Lastly, you boil it in the iron pot for hours and hours before serving it for dinner. It’s pretty much similar to how South Koreans cook samkyetang, right?
Another popular North Korean delicacy which is seldom found in the South is a dish of birds. South Koreans almost never eat birds like this, but it is not rare for Northerners to eat sparrows for dinner. Actually, I was quite lucky to get lots of chances to eat sparrows back in North Korea.
When I was a college student in the North, I home-stayed with my host family. My host family frequently went hunting for birds and they always came back with a number of sparrows. When my host family fried sparrows for me, I was hesitant to try it – I was sick just at the thought of it! It didn’t look appetizing at all.
When my host family kept offering it, I couldn’t turn down their favor so I took a small bite of it. I still cannot forget the moment I tried a bite of sparrow for the first time in my life. It was something I had never tasted before in my life. The taste of sparrow was completely different from that of chicken and pork.
Later in college, I ended up dating the daughter of my host family. When the family found out that I was dating their daughter, they offered more and more dishes of fried sparrow for me, that’s why I got to eat fried sparrow so often while I was in North Korea.
When they returned from hunting, they separated some portion of the birds they were going to sell at the market and served them for me. They must’ve really liked me and considered me their son-in-law to be. If I hadn’t come to South Korea, I probably would’ve married their daughter by now.
Do we eat horses for dinner in North Korea? Not as often as we would like due to the shortage of horses. Plus, there’s a notion among North Koreans that horses are not that tasty just like beef, so North Koreans aren’t really tempted or inclined to try a dish of horse meat. Horse meat is not considered to be a delicacy in North Korea. I’ve been living in South Korea for a while now and I don’t see any restaurants where they serve a dish of horse meat around me. I haven’t seen or heard of South Koreans eating horse meat.
There’s a variety of dishes in North Korea which are rarely found in South Korea. Food culture up in the North is quite different from the food you eat in the South. That discrepancy will get even bigger and be more obvious as time grows. I hope that the reunification of Korea arrives on the Korean peninsula sooner than later.
Written by Kim Yoo-sung
Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Featured image by Adam Westerman