Pizzas for the People

March 18, 2011 11:00 AM

There is no doubt that information is a powerful thing, especially for a country that is so closed off from the rest of the world. As our book on refugee surveys suggests, we’re seeing a lot of outside information penetrating into the general population of North Korea through DVDs, radio broadcasts and word of mouth.

But this, we didn’t expect. Hwang Kim, a Korean graduate of the Royal College of Arts in London has made it his mission to make pizza accessible to the general population through his how-to-make-pizzas DVDs, smuggled into North Korea through Korean Chinese merchants. With only one pizzeria in the whole nation, only serving the elite class of Pyongyang at that, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that more than 99% of North Koreans probably never tasted or perhaps even heard of pizza.

Even in South Korea, Pizza Hut opened its first store in 1985 and Domino’s Pizza, in 1990. It was only during the late ‘90s that pizza became somewhat popular among the general public, and it took much longer for people to start enjoying pizzas not served at restaurant chains. Different types of cheese, or herbs like basil are not as common in Korea, but they have managed to “Koreanize” their pizzas over the years, using nontraditional ingredients resulting in sweet potato pizzas, bulgogi pizzas, kimchi pizzas and the like.

The first thing that came to mind while watching the clip was how in the world the North Koreans would manage to get the ingredients when they could possibly be out of even their staples. The video suggests using tofu in lieu of cheese which in all likelihood they will have trouble finding, and that they may need to go to department stores to get tomatoes. If only tofu were easier to get and department stores accessible to the general public...

Hwang Kim says that he received feedbacks from the North Koreans saying that they had tried the recipe and that it was delicious. Although doubtful that what they had tasted would be anything like the ones we eat here, it’s still impressive how information flows in and how even a simple how-to video clip can provide them a glimpse of the outside world. Who knows, pizza may one day become popular in North Korea, and they may even “North Koreanize” it using ingredients that are more readily available to them. Pork-bean paste pizza, anyone?

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