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North Korea merchants give rise to street food vendors

North Korea’s population has become more mobile, and informal marketplaces have grown around train and bus stations.

By Elizabeth Shim
North Korea merchants give rise to street food vendors
A North Korean man sells contraband pickled eggs, cigarettes, alcohol and ginseng to Korean, Japanese and Chinese tourists on the Yalu River, north of Dandong, China's largest border city with North Korea, in Liaoning Province, on May 28. Merchants in North Korea travel across the country, moving from market to market. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, July 23 (UPI) -- North Korea is experiencing a boom in street food vendors as unofficial markets continue to grow under Kim Jong Un.

A source in North Korea's South Pyongan Province told South Korean news outlet Daily NK the rise of a highly mobile population of merchants has led to increased demand for quick snacks and other foods on the go.

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"As people travel around more and look for quick meals, there has been a sudden growth of street food vendors," the source said.

North Korea's population has become more mobile, and informal marketplaces have grown around train and bus stations, and near residential apartments.

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In South Pyongan Province, some markets have food vendor "lanes" that stretch for more than a mile.

Some of the foods they serve are unique to North Korea.

A menu item known as "artificial meat rice" is a dish that uses a tofu substitute and is a popular choice, along with noodles and seaweed soup with rice.

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Snacks such as candy and cookies also are on sale, the source said.

Merchants in North Korea travel across the country, moving from market to market. According to Daily NK, they sometimes purchase large quantities of prepackaged snacks before they leave, adding to their bundle of merchandise.

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South Korean outlet Newsis reported some street vendors do double duty, moonlighting in their makeshift stands as a drinking establishment.

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By night, these North Korean vendors sell beer and other alcohol, and offer foods to go with the drink to make extra cash.

Daily NK's source said the stands that sell alcohol have their own electricity, and can cook stews and side dishes for customers looking to unwind after a long day at the market.

The stalls do not pay rent or other fees to the state, but are often forced to pay a bribe to security agents in order to stay in operation.

"If not, they are punished, so they have no choice but give the agents money," the North Korean source said.

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