News / Asia

Koreans Overcome Differences By Way of Cuisine

Lee Aeran once inspected food for the North Korean government, now she teaches North Korean cuisine at her cooking institute in Seoul
Lee Aeran once inspected food for the North Korean government, now she teaches North Korean cuisine at her cooking institute in Seoul

Multimedia

Audio
Jason Strother

It is well known that food is hard to come by in parts of North Korea, where the U.N. World Food Program has been helping feed more than 3.5 million people since April in the wake of severe food shortages.

But travel past the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a strip of land that separates the two Koreas, into South Korea and one can find an abundance of North Korean-style dishes.

That is, in part, thanks to an increasing number of defectors who have opened restaurants and even a cooking school in their new home.



Gastronomical tour


Ryu Kyung-ok is a tiny restaurant that fills up with customers quickly during lunchtime.  The menu takes you on a gastronomical tour of North Korea.

There is dumpling soup from Kaeseong, a rice and beef dish from Pyongyang and from Hamheung, a bowl of cold noodles called naengmyeon.

The noodles is what many people come for.

Customer Rho Soo-ah, 20, says naengmyeon is just what you want on a steamy day.

“When it’s really hot, it’s just really refreshing and it tastes good it kinda cools down your whole body,” Rho explains, before ordering one bowl of naengmyeon served in a cold beef broth and another mixed with raw fish and pepper sauce.   

All the staff at Ryu Kyung -ok are North Korean defectors, including the owner, Ahn Mi-ok.

She says North Korean food is much simpler than South Korean food.  It uses the traditional cooking methods without adding unnecessary ingredients. Ahn says South Koreans use too many artificial flavorings or add extra types of sauces.  North Korean food goes back to the basics, she notes.

Naengmyeon has been popular in South Korea for decades.  Ahn hopes other North Korean dishes will catch on soon.

For the love of food

Lee Aeran, 47, is also counting on that.  Lee, a former food inspector from Pyongyang, now runs the North Korean Food Institute in Seoul.

She says cooking is a great way for Koreans from both sides of the peninsula to overcome their differences.

Lee says, the problem is that North and South Korean people have had no communication since they were separated. But the love of food is universal.  She says cooking provides a place for people to come together and chat.

Recently, Lee’s school started offering classes in English, so non-Korean speakers can talk about North Korean food too.  

With the help of an interpreter, Lee instructs the class on how to make haeju bimbinbap - a rice and vegetable dish with chicken and soy sauce.

Delicious way to learn

Korean American Alex Jung, 27, stands over a simmering pot.  He says the class taught him some new things about Korean food.

“I think that I am pretty familiar with South Korean cooking, in general, and all the regional differences within South Korea," Jung says.  "And, there definitely aren’t that many opportunities to try, eat or make North Korean food.  And I was just excited to learn about a certain style of North Korean food that I had never eaten before.”    

Lee Aeran says her cooking school also has a special meaning for North Korean defectors who did not have much to eat back home.

She says many North Koreans really can't eat well.  They struggle because of food shortages and often have meals consisting of just rice mixed with water.

Often, there isn't even enough rice, says Seong Yuri, 41.  She is a student at the cooking school too and says that since she arrived in the south in 2007, she has learned a lot about food from her homeland. Seong says, in the North, they did not have the ingredients to make these types of dishes.

Food appreciation

But Seong says the most important thing she learned was how differently North and South Koreans appreciate food.

Seong says she was really surprised that many South Koreans diet.  She says it's odd that while North Koreans are starving to death, people here strive to be slim.  Seong thinks there is so much diversity in food that it is hard to choose what to eat.  Seong says the great thing is that she's gotten to try a lot of other countries’ foods.

Seong says despite the differences, she believes learning about each others’ food can bring the two Koreas closer together.  Reunification, starts at the dinner table, she notes.

You May Like

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid