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

    South Sudan Sends First Ever Official Olympic Team to Rio

    VOA caught up with Santino Kenyi, 16, one of three athletes who will compete in this year's summer games in Brazil

    Arrest of Malawi's 'Hyena' Man Highlights Clash of Ritual, Health and Women's Rights

    Ritual practice of deflowering young girls is blamed for spreading deadly AIDS virus

    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    VOA finds things Americans take for granted are special to foreigners

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora