INCHEON -- Hong Eun-hye carries on the tradition of her late mother and grandmother, crafting rice cakes, snacks and candies the North Korean way.
Born in Hamhung, the reclusive state’s second-largest city, she grew up watching them prepare “finger sticks” -- stick-shaped donuts coated in sugar -- and bean candies -- tiny bean curd balls stir-fried and glazed in sugar -- to sell at local markets.
“My mom and grandma used to make these to support my family,” Hong said at her shop in Incheon’s Yeonsu-gu in an interview earlier this week. “I bake in memory of them.”
Hong Eun-hye holds a bowl of North Korean bean candies at her shop in Incheon on Monday. (The Korea Herald)
Hong opened the shop in 2006, three years after fleeing poverty in the North and arriving in the South via China. She was the first in her family to make the perilous trip. Her younger brother later followed in her footsteps and now runs a noodle restaurant just next door. Her mom, however, died while attempting to cross the border.
Hong’s shop, tucked away in a quiet residential street, has a sign that says “Twin Mom’s Unification Store.” Like the baked goods filling the shelves, the store has no fancy decorations. On the contrary, an empty piece of furniture stands in front of the store for no apparent reason.
Inside the store, there are piles of packaged North Korean blood sausages, snacks and candies, and a refrigerator full of more of Hong’s creations.
Kkori-tteok, a typical North Korean rice cake (Hong Eun-hye)
“Much of the sales come via (my online) shopping mall,” she said. “Rice cakes are mostly made to order,” she added.
In North Korea, where food is basically rationed, there are no extravagant pastries and desserts.
“Rice cakes are for special occasions. You don’t get to eat them even on your birthday,” she said.
Hong’s baked goods are simple and modest, reminiscent of old times when food was more of a household affair than an industry.
The typical star ingredients of today’s desserts -- chocolate and cream -- make no appearance.
“They are no comparison to desserts in South Korea,” she acknowledged. “But customers seem to like them.”
Her customers are predominantly South Koreans, though North Korean war refugees of the 1950-53 Korean War and defectors make up a small portion.
“Old people say they bring back their childhood days. Young people are curious to know what North Korean food tastes like,” she said.
Hong has three children with her South Korean native husband. Her kids, including twin daughters, love their mom’s sweets, though they cannot get enough of supermarket goodies, just like any ordinary kid here.
“I make everything the old way, with no artificial preservatives or anything like that,” she stressed.
Hong’s rice cakes and baked goods can be purchased at www.fkmade.com.
By Lee Sun-young (firstname.lastname@example.org