Tastes of North Korea

  • Many North Koreans still sustain themselves with food that comes from the state. 
  • Illegal “grasshopper markets” are common, however.
  • Many common street foods in North Korea are low in nutrients. 


When North Koreans need to buy groceries, they don’t go to a grocery store. 

According to Reuters, 70% of North Koreans still use the state’s central distribution system as their main source of food. But many also visit illegal “grasshopper markets” — which earned their name because of how fast stalls must be set up and taken down — as well as officially sanctioned ones, where traders must pay a fee to the state to sell their wares. 

The dishes you’ll find there, such as “injogogibab,” which is also known as “man-made meat,” rely heavily on rice, kimchi, and bean paste. Lacking in essential fats and proteins, these dishes are made with ingredients that have been a staple during the country’s ongoing food crisis, which has left two in five North Koreans undernourished. In the 1990s, a famine killed up to one million North Korean people.

Reporters have seen signs of chronic hunger in the country as recently as 2013, but some who have defected say the food supply has improved in recent years, according to Reuters. 

Ahead, take a look at the food that North Koreans can get from both illegal street vendors and from some of the legal, officially sanctioned markets. 

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Injogogibab is made of the remains left from making soy bean oil. The oil is pressed and rolled into a paste, then topped off with fish-based sauce or chili paste. This dish used to be eaten as a substitute for meat, which gave it its nickname of “man-made meat.”

Injogogi, pictured here, is a textured vegetable protein.

Dububab, or, tofu rice, are tofu skins stuffed with rice and topped with chili sauce.

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