The Best of Lesser Known North Korean Foods

One of the great joys of travel is experiencing the new food of different cultures and North Korea is no exception to this rule. Anyone familiar with Korean cuisine will recognise kimchi, bibimbap and Korean BBQ pop up throughout meals in the DPRK but we thought we’d give you the top 10 of some lesser known North Korean foods.

While there are certainly similarities between food both sides of the DMZ, the culinary fare served in the North is slightly more “old school.” Where South Korean food might feature more international influences from the West and Japan, North Korean food has a more simplistic, modest “home style” feel to it, void of the international influences and more broadly defined international palate of the South.

However, there are a few culinary delights unique to North Korea that should absolutely be on any travelling foodie’s bucket list.

10 - Ostrich BBQ

North Korean Ostrich farm

With ostrich meat and eggs providing substantial amounts of food to both the North Korean military and people, ostrich meat and eggs are prevalent throughout Pyongyang. Giant ostrich eggs can be found in most supermarkets.

A trip to the Ostrich Farm just outside of Pyongyang is the best place to try ostrich BBQ and purchase all manner of ostrich goods at the gift shop, from ostrich related foodstuffs to ostrich leather shoes.

9 - Injo Gogi Bap

Injogogibap - a popular North Korean dish

Literally translating as “rice with artificial meat,” injo-gogi-bap is made of rice, kimchi, soy bean paste and soy bean oil and made by wrapping steamed rice in the skin of leftover soybean paste, covered with a generous dollop of chilli sauce.

With this dish being developed during the dark times of North Korea’s famine of the 1990s, the texture is said to replicate a meat-like texture and is still eaten today as one of the most popular street food dishes in North Korea.

8 - Gongmiri

North Korean food gongmiri

Fresh, delicious seafood is rife throughout the entire Korean Peninsula and is also one of North Korea’s biggest exports.

Sampling the fresh seafood during any trip to the east coast city of Wonsan is a must for any visitor, particularly on our Liberation Day tour. A trip down to the local pier sees local fishermen selling their catch of the day to a series of tiny, al fresco eateries dotted along the pier.

Ask for a serve of “gongmiri,” a long silver fish, caught locally and prepared in front of you as sashimi. Dipped into some locally made gochujang (chilli sauce) and washed down with a swig of soju while watching the sun set over the East Sea of Korea – now you’re really on holiday.

7 - Petrol Clam BBQ

North Korean petrol clam cooking

While we’re on the topic of seafood, this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the infamous “petrol clam BBQ” of the west coast city of Nampo, typically enjoyed during our May Day tour.

A giant concrete slab of locally procured clams is set up immaculately, while your friendly KITC bus driver douses the arrangement with petrol, setting the slab alight and continuously cooking the clams in their shells.

With the clams set up facing downwards, no petrol goes inside the clam once it opens and burns off instantly, roasting the clams inside their shells. Sound wild? You better believe it is. One of the most authentic, local culinary experiences you can get.

6 - Talpi

Talpi or Beer fish in North Korea

On the opposite end of the fish spectrum is the quintessential beer accompaniment to talpi, otherwise known as cured and dried pollock. An essential addition to any North Korean beer drinking session, this dried fish is shredded into bite-sized jerky-pieces and eaten with a light, soy vinegar and wasabi for an extra kick.

While dried fish might put some people off, the subtle flavour is just the right amount of salt to perfectly pair with your Taedonggang beer. The visit the above Mansungyo Beer brewery on almost all of our North Korea Tours.

5 -Duck Heart

North Korean speciality, Duck Heart

Here’s an insider tip for the more adventurous eaters out there – Make a special side order of “duck hearts” when you visit the famous Pyongyang Duck BBQ Restaurant. It’s not on the menu, but let this writer tell you, they’re grilled to perfection – rich in protein and saturated fatty acids and perfect. These BBQ’d duck hearts may make your fellow diner’s squeamish but damn they’re good.

4 - Pine Mushrooms

Pine Mushrooms - A North Korean Delicacy

Considered a delicacy similar to truffles, the pine mushrooms found in the Chilbo Mountain region of North Korea are some of the most delicious, light and complexly flavoured mushrooms you’ll ever try.

Kim Jong Un even gifted South Korean President Moon Jae-in over 2 tonnes valued at over USD $1.5 million during their summit in 2018. The best place to try these ‘shrooms is on any trip to the lesser visited North East Province of North Hamgyong, lightly roasted on a gas cooker or BBQ.

3 - Pansangi

North Korean Pansangi served in Kaesong on a North Korea tour

Any trip down to the DMZ on the Northern side will likely see you eating at one of the local restaurants in nearby Kaesong. Largely spared the bombing during the Korean war, the city of Kaesong hosts some of the DPRK’s largest clusters of UNESCO World Heritage sites and as such, is the perfect environment to sample“pansangi.”

A traditional dish including numerous bronze bowls filled with a variety of side dishes including fish, pork, vegetables, rice, kimchi and other preserved goods. Pansangi was served to royalty during the Koryo Dynasty, with the more bowls served indicating the “importance” of a dinner guest. Simply delightful!

2 - Sea Urchin

North Korean Sea Urchin

You may have tried sea urchin sashimi or sushi known as “uni” in the past,
however did you know that North Korean waters host some of the best
conditions for the highest quality sea urchin to grow in the world, second only to the cold waters of Hokkaido, Japan?

This delicacy can only be described as unique, tasting something like being dunked under a wave of salted caramel ocean. If you’re visiting the Chilbosan Homestay Village on our North East & Pyongyang tour during the colder months around May or June, you can even forage for fresh sea urchins yourself in the rock pools of the beach at the homestay villiage straight from the source.

1 - Pyongyang Cold Noodles

Pyongyang cold noodles served on a north korean tour

Known locally as “Naengmyeon,” these buckwheat noodles served with thinly  sliced portions of chicken, pork and/or beef, egg and other toppings in a refreshingly cold and light broth are typically served during weddings and special occasions.

That doesn’t stop North Koreans from eating naengmyeon every day though, with Pyongyang’s mega 2000-seat capacity Okryu-gwan restaurant featuring lines out the door most days of the week with hungry locals ready to get their Naengmyeon fix. 

Ready to expand your travel palette to include some of the culinary oddities and pleasures of North Korea? Check out our list of upcoming 2021 North Korea tour dates, email us or get in touch via social media for early bird bookings!


Flaming Galah

DPRK travel veteran Matt Kulezsa has probably visited and seen more of North Korea than any Australian in history. We’d like to think he know’s what he’s taking about.