Being a Korean-Canadian, I was always fascinated by the topic of North Korea. Everyone has their own opinion and stereotype about the world’s most repressed county but the most interesting insights come from none other than South Koreans. Now that I live in South Korea, I am exposed to more news and stories about North Korea through South Korean media. After more than 70 years of separation, it seems that down here in south the neighbour up north is no more than a political tool during election season. Some younger generation feel indifferent towards issues in the north and some oppose unification while others have strong opinions toward policies against North Korea.
My interest towards North Korea is a mix of simply curiosity towards mysterious, forbidden land and natural instinct of seeking my Korean heritage. Part of my family tree is rooted in North Korea and I am eager to find out more about the culture that seems so close and yet so far.
But as of now, instead of visiting the northern peninsula I shall settle for having a North Korean-style meal. I feel fortunate just to find an old restaurant that follows the traditions and keeps North Korean cuisine available in South Korea. Daedonggang in Daegu is a half-a-century-old historic site that started its business in 1965. The name is derived from a large river flowing across North Korea.
The menu includes naengmyun, a North Korean cold buckwheat noodle dish that can be found in all parts of South Korea. The giant handmade dumplings and crispy beans pancake are also popular. But what drew my attention was something that I’ve never heard of before. Onban could mean “hot tray” but here it is a warm bowl of chicken gukbap, or soup with rice inside.
The broth was surprisingly light but the flavour of chicken was definitely there. I liked the clean, a rather bland taste of the soup compared to salty and spicy broth from southern parts. It was a hearty bowl of comfort food that led me into imagining North Korean citizens sitting around at a marketplace having traditional gukbap, just like we do here in the south.
It’s place like this that I hope will stay in business for years to come. I believe food brings people of different culture together. The Two Koreas were once together but now we are too far apart that we aren’t even familiar of each other’s daily meal. Although I wasn’t in North Korea, trying their food made me feel a step closer to achieve my dream of one day visiting the land north of 38th parallel.