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01/16/2014

The hamburger, by another name, is a hit in North Korea

Nk burgers

A screenshot from Japanese TV showing a North Korean hamburger.

North Korea’s elite are falling in love with the hamburger.

They just can’t call it that.

A Singaporean company in 2009 opened a fast food outlet called Samtaeseong (“Three Big Stars”) in Pyongyang that sell “minced meat with bun.” The word hamburger is banned because it is associated with the U.S. Instead of ketchup, mustard and onions, the burgers, made of minced beef, fish or vegetables, come topped with kimchi, a spicy pickled cabbage.

The burgers have become so popular that there are now 10 outlets in the North Korean capital selling them, according to a report in Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

The newspaper reports the cheapest burger costs $1.77 in a country where the average monthly income is $108.

The food chain also sells fried chicken, waffles and soft drinks.

The Singapore investors would be wise not to take too much credit for bringing a new food offering to the country’s elite. In 2004, the North Korean press reported leader Kim Jong Il had come up with the idea of burgers.

"I've made up my mind to feed quality bread and french fries to university students, professors and researchers even if we are in (economic) hardship,” Kim said at the time, according to an Associated Press report.

To be sure, burgers are a delicacy few North Koreans can afford. Most of the country's resident survive on dishes such as cold noodles (Naung-myon), tofu, short-grain rice and porridge. In November, the World Food Program reported rates of stunting caused by malnutrition during the first 1,000 days of a North Korean child’s life remain high and micronutrient deficiencies are a concern.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

 

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