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State-run restaurants boom as N. Koreans increasingly forgo home-cooked meals

North Koreans used to prepare different kinds of food to eat with their families on major holidays, but things are changing.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Daily NK source in North Pyongan Province said Wednesday that while North Korea’s biggest holiday – the Apr. 15 birthday of late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, also known as the Day of the Sun – came and went, “few people in Sinuiju prepared food for the occasion.” He added that “the custom of preparing a lot of food for the holiday and relaxing was changing.”

In the past, North Koreans used to prepare rice cakes, meat and other foods and share a feast with their families on major national holidays such as the Day of the Sun or the Day of the Shining Star, the birthday of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. But this once-common practice has been gradually disappearing of late.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, housewives in every family had a hard time on national holidays preparing different kinds of rice cakes, meat and other food for the occasion, but recently you don’t see people – rich or poor – preparing food for the holiday,” the source said.

Families who can afford it go to high-end restaurants on holidays to enjoy expensive meals, while struggling families with little in their pockets prepare food separately or forgo festive meals, he said.

Many people opt for restaurants instead

According to the source, one Sinuiju resident said that people “no longer cook holiday food at home like a bumpkin,” and that he himself went to a restaurant on the Day of the Sun to enjoy a good meal.

It costs about RMB 400 (about USD 55) for a family of four to eat at a restaurant, but the resident said there are several advantages, including the freedom from having to prepare holiday food and no food odor in the home.

On the other hand, another resident said that “tightening our belts is a daily thing, so nothing really changed on the holiday,” adding that “it was more important to eat right every day than to prepare different kinds of food just because it’s a holiday.

In other words, such families no longer think about preparing holiday foods because they will have a harder time filling their stomachs after the holiday if they waste money, or even go into debt, preparing dishes for the occasion just to enjoy the day.

So while the markets used to be busy with shoppers preparing food for the holiday before the Day of the Sun, this year they were no busier than usual – or even a little quieter.

“In the past, market merchants made a lot of money on holidays by selling lots of meat, fish, and other ingredients at high prices, but not this year,” the source said. “Merchants complained that they couldn’t make money for several reasons, saying they could count on one hand how many times there were as few customers as this year.”

The source added that state-run restaurants are making more money as the number of holiday customers increases.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

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Read in Korean

April 19, 2024 at 12:30PM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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