What Are The 5 Differences Between North Korean & South Korean Food?

When it comes to North Korean cuisine and South Korean cuisine there are many similarities and differences.

Before I talk about the 5 differences between North Korean and South Korean food, you might be wondering why I was even in North Korea in the first place. Why not Hawaii or Australia? For those who don’t know I got to visit both the DPRK and South Korea in 2013, back to back, so it gave me a chance to try both cuisines in the same week!

But what made me visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the official name of North Korea) is that it was sealed off for nearly 60 years. I wanted to experience it for myself – its culture, people, and of course, its FOOD!

As I’ve observed (or tasted), North Korean Food is somehow different compared to its South Korean counterpart. Here are some of the differences between the two. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting the World’s Top Restaurants in the DPRK but the cuisine was surprisingly complex.

Table of Contents

1. North Korean Cuisine – Dishes Are Less Spicier

Both countries use red pepper flakes on their food but the North Korean version is less spicy compared to the ones being produced In South Korea.

North Koreans don’t use a lot of red pepper in their food too which is why their dishes are just less spicy in general. They use a fermented bean paste on most dishes while South Koreans use red pepper paste.

Another thing that you will notice is that North Korean food leans toward the sweeter side and that’s because most North Koreans use fresh mountain water which adds more flavor to their dishes. Meanwhile, tap water is the main water source for most South Korean households.

Perhaps, one of the major factors why South Korean dishes are a lot spicier is because of their food industry. Dining-out became more popular and restaurants started to play around with their dishes to attract customers by making their food spicier and saltier.

kimchi - North Korean Food

2. North Korean Cuisine – Kimchi is Sweeter Compared to South Korean Kimchi

Each region and town has a different way of preparing Kimchi. There will always be slight variations since the ones making it will use ingredients that are found within their area.

North Korean Kimchi has fruits, cabbage, freshwater, salt, and cod if it’s available. This traditional version originates from the northern territories such as Hwang-hae-do, Ham-kyung-do, and Pyong-an-do where they use less spice and salt.

Meanwhile, South Koreans use fruits, baby shrimp, fish sauce, or seafood (cod, squid, oysters) and tend to be a bit spicier and saltier. However, there are also restaurants in South Korea that still serve the traditional version and it’s probably because the owners are from the North who fled to the South during the Korean war.

North Korean Food

3. North Koreans Don’t Have as many Beef Dishes Unlike South Koreans

Beef is used much less frequently in North Korean cuisine than in the south of the country.

Meanwhile, South Koreans eat almost any kind of meat that’s available to them and the most popular one is the Hanwoo beef which is cooked for special occasions.

This is very evident in the dumpling styles that each country has because North Korean dumplings have minced pork, tofu, and vegetables in them. They look like rice cakes, to be honest.

Meanwhile, South Korean dumplings are made with diced glass noodles, vegetables, tofu, and minced beef and pork. They also look different and often come in different shapes and sizes.

North Korean Cuisine

4. The Noodles Are Different

North Korean cuisine! The noodles are made with corn and it’s typically paired with just kimchi. Meanwhile, South Korean noodles are made of wheat flour with vegetables and eggs while Kimchi is being served as a side dish.

The two dishes that perfectly represent these differences are the Pyongyang Mul Naengmyun from North Korea and the Spicy Pollock Naengmyun from South Korea.

5. North Korean Alcohol Is Much Stronger

If you think South Korean spirits are strong, wait ‘til you try North Korea’s alcoholic drinks. Typically, South Korea’s alcoholic beverages have an alcoholic percentage of under 20 percent while North Korea goes beyond that in most cases.

For example, Pyongyang soju which is made with corn and white rice has an alcohol content between 25 – 30 percent. It’s much stronger compared to the ones made in the South. 

To read more about Soju click here.

There’s no specific reason why North Korean alcoholic drinks are much stronger but its geographical location could be one factor. Since it’s located farther in the north, the winters are longer so there’s a need for a strong kick of booze during those times.

From what I’ve observed, North Korean dishes are very traditional compared to South Korean dishes which are a bit modernized. Plus, a lot of South Korean restaurants are always experimenting with their food to make it more interesting for their customers. If this blog article has got you hungry I highly recommend you check out my friend Daniela’s food blog with tons of great recipes.


My trip to the Democratic People’s Republic Korea was a memorable experience and I’d go back if I get the chance. However, those days of crazy adventures will probably lessen in the following years to come as I focus on PointsPanda.com where I offer travel and credit card advice through my travel concierge. I help people get the best travel deals with their credit card points and I also have a few travel hacking courses for those who want to do DIY travel hacking.

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