Cooking/ Eating Shows in N. Korea
Cooking and eating shows have been a popular part of broadcasting in South Korea in recent years. Videos showing people eating a large amount of food are called “mukbang,” a combination of two Korean words “eating” and “broadcast.” This Korean term is included in the Oxford English Dictionary. Similarly, cooking videos are called “cookbang.” Other newly-coined words related to cooking include “yoseknam,” which means an attractive man who cooks well, and “cheftainer,” a combination of “chef” and “entertainer.” In South Korea, mukbang and cookbang shows have enjoyed steadfast popularity not only on public networks but on cable channels, general programming channels and new media as well.
Today, we’ll learn about cooking and eating videos in North Korea from Professor Jeon Young-seon from the Institute for the Humanities and Unification at Konkuk University.
North Korea hosts cooking contests around national holidays and important events. The cooking competitions receive wide coverage in the country’s Korean Central Television.
A 2018 cooking event that was held on the occasion of the Day of the Sun, the birthday anniversary of regime founder Kim Il-sung, shows expensive food ingredients such as turkey and lobster.
The TV program introduces different food items using a new vegetable called “Danbaekcho,” for which the country succeeded in trial cultivation. Leader Kim Jong-un himself named the crop.
Cooking contests in North Korea serve as a venue to promote food ingredients and culinary standards. They also have to do with state policies.
In general, restaurants participate in cooking contests, which have the purpose of developing and distributing recipes using newly produced crops in line with new agricultural policies. Taehongdan(대홍단) County, for instance, hosts a cooking competition with a potato theme, as the region produces a large quantity of potatoes on its potato farm. In regions where ostriches or rabbits are raised, cooking contests for ostrich or rabbit meat are held. That is, when new food ingredients are produced as a result of a policy change, the nation holds relevant cooking events to encourage restaurants to compete to develop new ideas about how to use the new foodstuff. When some food items stand out at the competitions, the government standardizes their recipes and distributes them to local restaurants.
There are cooking shows or cookbangs in North Korea, too. For example, Korean Central Television airs a program titled “Common Sense in Cooking.” This program has changed considerably in recent years. Two years ago, the program showed how to cook Onban, a one-pot dish with rice and soup. At the time, the chef simply cooked the dish, while the show host explained everything from ingredients to the cooking method in pre-recorded narration.
But the recent program about the same dish has completely changed.
In the program, the chef and the host chat with each other in a relaxed atmosphere. The host even does the cooking.
In another case, a viewer is invited to the show and cooks the dish with the chef.
In this way, North Korea’s cooking programs are evolving.
In the past, cooking programs were rather boring and their backgrounds were also just the run of the mill. When ingredients were explained, subtitles were simply on the screen for explanations.
But these days, shows have become more dynamic. The host and the chef talk about recipes in an unusual place, like a coffee shop. The chef lets the reporter cook, naturally revealing the scene of the reporter making a mistake. Overall, cooking shows have become more natural and smoother so viewers can understand what’s going on more easily.
In another noticeable change, those who appear on the shows choose to wear fancy clothes. Formerly, chefs would wear a simple hat in a solid color. Nowadays, some chefs select patterned ones. Previously, cooking shows were mostly about cooking a dish well. But today, the chef tastes the food and makes comments to appeal more greatly to viewers.
The format of the cooking programs has also diversified. For instance, a chef at Kyonghung Unhasu Restaurant talks with his wife and daughter about the ingredients of yakbab, which is Korean sweet rice with dried fruit and nuts.
The scene switches to a cooking program that shows how to make the dish.
In another show, a housewife is wondering how to cook food at a food section at a department store. After she is interviewed, a chef who is responsible for the restaurants of the department store appears to teach her how to boil thick udon noodles.
Analysts say that the evolving cooking shows have to do with a social change in North Korea.
The concept of food has changed. After North Korea’s extreme economic difficulties in the 1990s known as the Arduous March period, food was regarded as something necessary for survival. These days, restaurants can produce profit if they do business properly, and famous chefs are directly related to sales. So, restaurants run business in a way to stimulate people’s appetite.
Kimchi factories and seafood processing plants have been built in different regions in North Korea. Showing the scenes of cooking delicious food using processed seafood, cooking shows can contribute to increasing the sales of food to generate a positive economic effect. While North Koreans would consume food simply to survive in the past, they now think a little bit more flexibly about food, perceiving it from a cultural viewpoint.
The North’s Korean Central Television often introduces famous restaurants. The TV unveils recipes of those restaurants and shows how the same food tastes different in each eatery.
This has to do with a “civilized socialist nation” that the Kim Jong-un regime advocates. In line with the state policy of providing world-class cultural facilities to local citizens, many food streets and restaurants have been created in North Korea. The new facilities can appeal directly to the people, and this is what the policy aims for.
North Korea also uses famous eateries as tourism resources. The country has recently created a food village where visitors can relish various dishes including traditional Korean food, Chinese cuisine and Japanese sushi in one place.
In North Korea, the so-called mukbang or eating shows appeared quite a while ago. In 2015, a video showing a female guide introducing popular restaurants in downtown Pyongyang attracted public attention. In the video, she is seen eating spaghetti.
She also enjoys North Korean-style pizza with kimchi in the video.
Early this year, videos of a North Korean YouTuber named YuMi, who shows the everyday lives of Pyongyang citizens, went viral. On her YouTube channel, she eats ice cream in front of a beverage store and introduces red ginseng coffee, which looks like South Korea’s instant coffee mix that contains powdered coffee, sugar and powdered cream.
It is said that North Korean mukbangs or eating videos on YouTube channels are designed to promote the regime among foreigners.
In North Korea, it is hard to imagine that ordinary citizens expose their daily lives on media to foreign audiences. By revealing their everyday lives on purpose, North Korea seems to be trying to improve its national image. That is, the country makes the most of YouTube channels to show that its citizens can enjoy what people in other parts of the world enjoy. Through mukbang videos on YouTube, North Korea tries hard to show that Pyongyang is a safe place where there are lots of things to see and eat.
In March, a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan known as the Chosun Sinbo said that a cooking app produced by the Korean Association of Cooks in North Korea is very popular with young housewives in the North. The app has different sections such as “home cooking,” “health food,” “kimchi” and “Korean pastes, sauces and pickles.” The app includes information about renowned restaurants in North Korea including Okryugwan and Chongryugwan, traditional Korean dishes and new food as well. It is said that the app shows cooking methods that were filmed and edited in collaboration with famous chefs. It appears that a variety of cooking-related content is being developed in North Korea.
The Kim Jong-un regime has designated many items, including those related to food and cooking, as non-material cultural heritage. North Korea has recently paid close attention to agricultural issues, which are related to its policy of fostering regional industries. For example, it focuses on processed food using local specialties. Some TV programs introduce restaurants and show scenes of people enjoying local food on the spot. Those programs could help boost local tourism and the regional economy, so I think North Korea will continue to produce similar shows.
In March, the KBS entertainment program “Stars’ Top Recipe at Fun-Staurant” was selected, after a fierce competition, as the winner of “Best Branded Program” and “Best Single Topic Series” at “The Taste Awards” held in the U.S.
In the survival program, South Korean celebrities known as gourmets unveil their own recipes. Top menus recognized by the evaluation group are actually released in convenience stores. In a word, the culinary show straddles cookbangs and mukbangs.
We hope famous North Korean celebrities or chefs will take part in South Korean cooking and eating shows some day.