Food in North Korea - Kaesong
The city of Kaesong

Now, Korean food as a whole is world famous. It is known as one of the healthiest cuisines in the world.

You’re likely to be familiar with Korean food classics such as Korean BBQ, Bibimbap and kimchi, but is this kind of Korean food eaten in both North Korea and South Korea?

Or, is the food in North Korea much different to their southern neighbours over the border? 

Let’s find out! 10 Interesting North Korea Foods that may surprise you

1. Pansangi

Food in North Korea - Pansangi
Food in North Korea – Pansangi

Pansangi is a popular dish served in the city of Kaesong. A meal traditionally served to royalty; you may feel like a royal when you notice the number of dishes served in one sitting.

Pansangi includes a succession of bronze bowls with different pickled vegetables, marinated meats, tofu, kimchi and much more.

They say the bronze containers stimulate a good appetite for the feast ahead.

2. Hot Pot

Typical food in North Korea is the hot pot!

Winter in North Korea is long and bitterly cold, so this hot pot dish is ideal to endure this season to warm up. A hot pot is a flavoured broth or soup with tofu and vegetables. Add meat to your hot pot if you wish to.

Chilli is a popular addition to spice up your broth; now, that will keep the winter chills at bay.

3. Samgye-Tang (Ginseng Chicken Soup)

Food in North Korea Ginseng Chicken Soup
Food in North Korea – Ginseng Chicken Soup

Samgye-tang is a traditional Korean soup to keep the body healthy. Every nation has its own recipe for chicken soup to heal the body; however, in North Korea, it’s all about ginseng.

The core of this soup is to initially fill an entire young chicken with fresh garlic, rice, fresh ginseng and jujube, cover it with water and poach it.

If you’re wondering what jujube is, it’s an essential red date fruit in Korea. It’s eaten as a snack, to flavour foods such as this soup and traditional medicine. People believe that jujube fruit can prevent ageing and alleviate stress if consumed. 

4. Dog Soup (Sweet Meat Soup)

Typical food in North Korea is Dog Meat soup, but instead of calling it that, they refer to it as ‘Sweet Meat Soup’. This dish is a delicacy, not one of the North Korea foods eaten regularly.

Generally, dog meat soup is consumed only a few times a year during the hottest summer days. Why? Locals say that the soup’s spiciness clears out the toxins in the skin.

The younger generation in North Korea is not quite as thrilled to continue consuming dog meat soup, so perhaps this is one popular food in North Korea that won’t be too popular in the coming years.

5. Naengmyeon (Cold Noodles)

Food in North Korea cold noodles Naengmyeon
Food in North Korea – Naengmyeon (Cold noodles)

I couldn’t believe the popularity of these noodles during my time in North Korea; locals loved it! Known as Laengmyeon in the north, and Naengmyeon in the south, whatever you can them, understand that this is THE most popular food in North Korea.

Cold noodles don’t sound so delicious to me, so what’s the secret to this much-loved dish? 

The essential additions of both hot mustard and vinegar are the key. These two ingredients take the broth to a new level; it’s pretty addictive if I’m honest.

The buckwheat noodles are also fresh and chewy; perhaps the secret to the noodle quality is the blend of flour from wheat and starch from potatoes. The noodles pair perfectly with grilled meats.

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6. Kimchi

Food in North Korea Kimchi
The most popular North Korea food – Kimchi

Kimchi is a staple food in North Korea. What is kimchi exactly? Chopped cabbage, Korean radish or daikon, garlic, ginger, chives and other pastes and seasonings. Kimchi is a side dish to grilled meats, rice or vegetables and has a strong, slightly sour taste.

If you didn’t grow up eating it, it takes time to get used to this pungent-smelling, fermented cabbage dish. Soon enough, though, it becomes pretty addictive.

7. Bibimbap

Food in North Korea - Bibimbap
Popular North Korea food – Bibimbap

Once you go BAP, you’ll never go back! But, seriously, this is a yummy, homey kind of dish. Bibimbap translates to ‘mixed rice’, which you do as soon as you sit down to consume this North Korea food.

This dish is a piping hot stone bowl filled with rice combined with kimchi, tofu, pork, vegetables and gochujang (Korean chilli sauce). Usually, a raw egg cracked into the middle of the bowl is added before serving.

The best course of action is to mix the egg with the other ingredients and scrape down the sides of the crunchy rice pieces on the sides of your bowl; it’s the best part. 

8. North Korean BBQ

Food in North Korea - Korean BBQ
Food in North Korea – North Korean Duck BBQ

Korean BBQ is popular in South Korean cuisine and popular food in North Korea too. There are many elements that go into a Korean BBQ, but essentially you grill everything yourself.

Usually, meat such as thinly sliced pork or duck is provided, along with sliced vegetables, lettuce leaves, bean pastes and dipping sauces to dip your meat once cooked. A North Korean BBQ is even better when there is a cold beer and some soju whiskey to enjoy on the side.

9) Doenjang Jjigae (Bean Paste Stew)

Food in North Korea Bean Paste Stew
Food in North Korea – Bean Paste Stew

Doenjang Jjigae is a stew made from Korean soybean paste and additional ingredients such as meat, vegetables, tofu and seafood. This North Korean food is highly nutritious and rich in calories.

This soybean paste is a common ingredient in other foods in North Korea. The flavour can change significantly by adding soy or vinegar to the stew.

10) Garaetteok (Rice Cakes)

Food in North Korea Rice Cakes
Food in North Korea – Rice Cakes

Garaetteok is a style of Korean rice cake. These are pretty small in size and the shape of a cylinder. The ingredients to make the rice cake is non-glutinous short-grain rice flour, salt and water.

The rice dough must first be steamed; then rolled and cut into cylinders. You can make multiple North Korea food dishes from Garaetteok.

The most common classic is to stir fry the noodles with vegetables and perhaps meat with a spicy bean paste. Yum!

Interested to learn more about the most isolated country in the world? You may enjoy reading these 7 Myths About North Korea, from our experience visiting the country in 2018.

These are our thoughts about a topic that comes up regularly. Should You Visit North Korea? Is it Unethical? What are your thoughts? Learn more about North Korea by visiting the Wikipedia North Korea page.

If you’re interested in visiting North Korea, visit Koryo Tours for more information on available tours.

Some Travel Tips before you visit North Korea

After visiting North Korea, many travellers choose to continue on to China. If you’re heading that way too, don’t miss our post on how to avoid common tourist scams in China. No doubt you will try some of the local cuisine, but I wonder how many of these 10 most bizarre foods in China you would dare to eat?

There are some awesome things to see and do in China, and I recommend that you try and visit Pingyao – there is some fantastic food there too!

Our 15 Expert tips from visiting almost every county are packed with useful advice and tricks we’ve used over the past 20 years of travel. For more of the travel websites, gear, and products we love, head to our Travel Resources Page.