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

Diplomats Work to Extend Israeli-Palestinian Cease-Fire

US Secretary of State John Kerry, diplomats from France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Qatar gathered in Paris Saturday to discuss crisis More

Photogallery US Defense Department Warns of Arms to Eastern Ukraine

‘Imminent’ delivery of Russian rocket launcher poses threat to civilians, US says More

Video Researchers: Africa Genetically Modified Crops Held Back by Scaremongering

GM crops offer best hope of increasing productivity and coping with climate change in Africa, according to co-author of Chatham House report 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.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid