Stark photos show what street food is like in North Korea

Injogogibab, made with soy bean oil and topped with chili paste, was once used as a substitute for meat.

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Injogogibab, made with soy bean oil and topped with chili paste, was once used as a substitute for meat.
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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

    Many North Koreans still sustain themselves with food that comes from the state. Illegal “grasshopper markets” are common, however. Many common street foods in North Korea are low in nutrients.

When North Koreans need to buy groceries, they don’t go to a grocery store.

According to Reuters, 70% of North Koreans still use the state’s central distribution system as their main source of food. But many also visit illegal “grasshopper markets” – which earned their name because of how fast stalls must be set up and taken down – as well as officially sanctioned ones, where traders must pay a fee to the state to sell their wares.

The dishes you’ll find there, such as “injogogibab,” which is also known as “man-made meat,” rely heavily on rice, kimchi, and bean paste. Lacking in essential fats and proteins, these dishes are made with ingredients that have been a staple during the country’s ongoing food crisis, which has left two in five North Koreans undernourished. In the 1990s, a famine killed up to one million North Korean people.

Reporters have seen signs of chronic hunger in the country as recently as 2013, but some who have defected say the food supply has improved in recent years, according to Reuters.

Ahead, take a look at the food that North Koreans can get from both illegal street vendors and from some of the legal, officially sanctioned markets.


Injogogibab is made of the remains left from making soy bean oil. The oil is pressed and rolled into a paste, then topped off with fish-based sauce or chili paste. This dish used to be eaten as a substitute for meat, which gave it its nickname of “man-made meat.”

Injogogibab, made with soy bean oil and topped with chili paste, was once used as a substitute for meat.

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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Injogogi, pictured here, is a textured vegetable protein.

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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Dububab, or, tofu rice, are tofu skins stuffed with rice and topped with chili sauce.

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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Candies such as these, which are composed of sugar and vinegar, are handmade by vendors.

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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Kongsatang, which means “bean candy,” are made from roaster soy beans that are coated with sugar. When sugar is scarce, glucose made from grapes is used as a substitute.

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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

North Korean sausage, or “sundae,” is made from pig’s blood and stuffed with grains, vegetables, and, usually, rice. This traditional dish is available in both North and South Korea.

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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Flour and water make up these bready snacks. Similar to ladyfingers, these are tough on the outside and chewy in the middle. Sugar and grape glucose are added for taste.

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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Here, seokdujeon is made. These small treats are made by mixing cornmeal powder and water — no baking needed.

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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Here, seokdujeon — also known as “speed cake” because of its quick cooking process — is served.

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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

For those who cannot afford rice, corn is often used as a substitute.

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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Packaged North Korean powdered spices can also be found.

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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

There are also packaged candies, like these peach-flavored milk candies that were made in a factory in Pyongyang.

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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters