[INTERVIEW] North Korean defector talks about embracing culture through food

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[INTERVIEW] North Korean defector talks about embracing culture through food



By Jung Da-min

INCHEON ― Food is usually an easy entry to a different culture.

When it comes to North Korean food, however, there have been few that represent local recipes, a defector says.

Hong Eun-hye, 41, a defector who has been selling various North Korean food from sweets and snacks to abai-sundae ― North Korean-style blood sausage ― through her online shopping mall since 2016, said she wanted to break the prejudice people had toward North Korean defectors by introducing North Korean food in the South.

"I wanted to serve the food from my hometown not just for North Korean defectors here but especially for South Koreans, so they could better understand North Korean culture," Hong said. "I wanted to tell South Koreans that North Korean defectors were also the same people and could also be family members to them."

Born in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province in 1977 to a family making out of living by baking candies and cookies, she learnt the recipes from her grandmother and mother. They used to make traditional snacks and sweets served at traditional wedding ceremonies.

But as the so-called Arduous March, or great famine swept North Korea, her family's livelihood came to the verge of breakdown and she went to China in 2003, looking for help from relatives there.

Not finding a breakthrough, however, she decided to come to the South and arrived in Incheon, Gyeonggi Province, in 2006.

"I always feel grateful to South Koreans because I could settle down here with their help," Hong said. "I was living in China as well, but I could not have a nationality there."

She said she wanted to give back what she received in the South and making food she learnt from her family in the North came to mind.

North Korean-style snacks made from defector Hong Eun-hye's recipes are also being sold at an exhibition titled "Made in Chosun" near Hyehwa Station in the northern part of Seoul. The exhibition will run until April 7. Korea Times photo by Jung Da-min

Hong's food also has the idea of family because the products are made out of her love for her missing family, who could not come with her. Hong and her brothers could come to South Korea but their mother could not.

"My mother was going to come to the South but died trying to cross the Tumen River border and it has always been a grief for me that I could not go there to collect her remains," she said. "I always think that I cannot ever make the sweets as good as she did."

As a defector mother of three children including twin daughters and one son with her South Korean husband, she hopes one day the unification of the Koreas will come and the two sides can understand each other better.


Kim Kang-min, Lee Min-young contributed reporting.




By Jung Da-min

INCHEON ― Food is usually an easy entry to a different culture.

When it comes to North Korean food, however, there have been few that represent local recipes, a defector says.

Hong Eun-hye, 41, a defector who has been selling various North Korean food from sweets and snacks to abai-sundae ― North Korean-style blood sausage ― through her online shopping mall since 2016, said she wanted to break the prejudice people had toward North Korean defectors by introducing North Korean food in the South.

"I wanted to serve the food from my hometown not just for North Korean defectors here but especially for South Koreans, so they could better understand North Korean culture," Hong said. "I wanted to tell South Koreans that North Korean defectors were also the same people and could also be family members to them."

Born in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province in 1977 to a family making out of living by baking candies and cookies, she learnt the recipes from her grandmother and mother. They used to make traditional snacks and sweets served at traditional wedding ceremonies.

But as the so-called Arduous March, or great famine swept North Korea, her family's livelihood came to the verge of breakdown and she went to China in 2003, looking for help from relatives there.

Not finding a breakthrough, however, she decided to come to the South and arrived in Incheon, Gyeonggi Province, in 2006.

"I always feel grateful to South Koreans because I could settle down here with their help," Hong said. "I was living in China as well, but I could not have a nationality there."

She said she wanted to give back what she received in the South and making food she learnt from her family in the North came to mind.

North Korean-style snacks made from defector Hong Eun-hye's recipes are also being sold at an exhibition titled "Made in Chosun" near Hyehwa Station in the northern part of Seoul. The exhibition will run until April 7. Korea Times photo by Jung Da-min

Hong's food also has the idea of family because the products are made out of her love for her missing family, who could not come with her. Hong and her brothers could come to South Korea but their mother could not.

"My mother was going to come to the South but died trying to cross the Tumen River border and it has always been a grief for me that I could not go there to collect her remains," she said. "I always think that I cannot ever make the sweets as good as she did."

As a defector mother of three children including twin daughters and one son with her South Korean husband, she hopes one day the unification of the Koreas will come and the two sides can understand each other better.


Kim Kang-min, Lee Min-young contributed reporting.


Jung Da-min damin.jung@koreatimes.co.kr


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