Choco Pie Withdrawal: North Koreans Crave Their Favorite Treat

Kim Jong Un broke ties with South Korea, but he can't kill his comrades' appetite for Choco Pie

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Lee Jae Won / REUTERS

Former North Korean defectors living in South Korea prepare balloons containing Choco Pie snacks and anti-Pyongyang leaflets before releasing them to the North on April 24, 2012

After months of threatening rhetoric, North Korea has severed ties with South Korea. In April, it suspended operations at the jointly run Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last cooperative effort between the two nations. But the Kim leadership is having trouble eradicating the legacy of its capitalist neighbor, which is embodied in the famous Choco Pie — a small, round, chocolate-coated cake filled with marshmallow.

Manufactured by South Korea’s Orion Confectionery, the pies were first given to North Korean workers by their South Korean bosses in lieu of cash bonuses, according to the Guardian. (Cash bonuses were banned because they were considered to be a symbol of capitalism.) Choco Pies were so rare and delicious in snack-deprived Pyongyang that the workers at the complex located just north of the demilitarized zone started selling them on the black market for up to four times their regular price in South Korea, where they are widely available. As recently as 2010, nearly 2.5 million of the sweets were traded on North Korean black market every month, according to the Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean paper.

Analysts told the Guardian that the pies had given North Koreans a taste of the outside world, an idea that disturbed the country’s communist regime so much that it wanted to replace the pies with instant noodles to halt the spread of capitalist ideas that the sweet treats have come to symbolize.

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Curbing North Koreans’ Choco Pie cravings hasn’t been easy, though. One North Korean defector told the BBC that he had asked his father to buy as many Choco Pies as he could in China, where the confection is also widely enjoyed, and sell them in North Korea to make “a good profit.” The South Korean–based DailyNK reported that members of various defector organizations also sent huge balloons filled with Choco Pies and CDs to North Korea in 2012.

According to Radio Free Asia, smugglers have also been bringing in DVDs of South Korean movies and entertainment programs through the northern border with China, and North Korean residents have started copying the program and selling them in the black markets.

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Thanks to this porous border, the North Korean province of North Hamgyong appears to be “quietly liberalizing,” according to the Washington Post. Residents there lead a relatively prosperous life. They even have regular access to rice, a cherished commodity tightly controlled by the government, which occasionally gives it out as reward for status and loyalty, according to the Post.

With their steady supply of Choco Pies cut off, however, North Koreans are likely to start craving them all the more.

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