North Korean Refugees: Food and Nostalgia

Some of the most reminiscent and nostalgic discussions we have had with North Korean refugees in our Restore Life program have been about food. Close your eyes for a moment and think about the food that best encapsulates your hometown. Whatever it is, a sandwich, a taco, a hot dog or maybe even a certain soup, how would you feel if you could never go home and eat it?

Many of us on staff, while in China, will talk for hours about the food we miss from back home. These discussions are often accompanied by distant looks in our eyes as we long for things like pizza, peanut butter or French fries.

North Korean refugees have the same conversations. However, unlike us, they have little hope to ever eat their favorite dishes again. North Korean refugees have an even deeper connection to their food because the famine made every morsel all the more precious.

Our missionaries recently took three North Korean refugee women out for dinner and they had one of these conversations. These women are usually shy and muted but the topic of food brought life to their faces.

These were some of things the North Korean refugees in our care missed:

“HeeKyung”: Salted Pollack Soup

“My family would sit together and eat this when it would snow so high that it reached above our knees. On those days I would eat fresh salted Pollack. The taste would shoot in my mouth. I wish I can taste it again.”

“AeHyun”: Potato Noodles and Pyongyang Style Nengmyun (buckwheat noodles with beef broth)

“The noodles are very clear and thin. It’s my favorite noodle.  You can have it in hot soup or mixed with spicy paste. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. And there is nothing compared to Pyongyang buckwheat noodles! I miss it so much.  The Chinese don’t have buckwheat noodles. Pyongyang noodles must be made with buckwheat. During the famine, we only dreamt about food, especially white rice. We left our homes for food. It’s sad.”

“OakSoon”: ‘Eun Eo’ Sweet Roasted Yellowfish

“Only in XX city people could eat it because there were many business people. They could afford to buy fish. Also, I miss corn noodles in hot soup.”

Please pray for these North Korean refugee women who long for more than a taste, but for their homes. They are foreigners in a strange land with a different language and unfamiliar foods. Please pray that their hunger might be filled by the only One who can satisfy.