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Potatoes on the menu in North Korea

Lined up in cavernous rooms at a state restaurant in Pyongyang, North Korean chefs carefully assemble their dishes, watched by crowds of onlookers at a cooking competition in a country that suffers chronic food shortages.

Around 300 cooks are competing in 40 different dishes over three days at North Korea’s national cooking competition, with the winners receiving cookbooks and equipment as well as diplomas and medals.

Onlookers — mostly women in warm winter coats — gathered around each station in the unheated venue, some of them filming the contestants at work on their mobile phones for future inspiration.

While the 1990s famine known as the Arduous March, when hundreds of thousands of people died, is in the past, North Korean agricultural yields are well below global averages and the country’s population remains severely undernourished.

“Chronic food insecurity and malnutrition is extensive,” the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said in its 2019 Needs and Priorities document this week.

No less than 43 percent of the population — 10.9 million people — are affected by food insecurity, it said, while one third of children do not receive the minimum acceptable diet, and one in five suffer from stunting caused by chronic malnutrition.

Leader Kim Jong Un’s answer to this is: potatoes.

Unlike rice paddies inundated with water, potatoes do not have to be grown on flat land, and Pyongyang is pushing the humble spud as a staple food. Potatoes yield 20 tonnes per hectare, while rice produces less than 10 tonnes.

Kim has visited a potato powder factory several times, pictured on one occasion last year lying back with officials on a mountain of tubers. According to the official KCNA news agency, Kim said that North Koreans should be told about the products “advantages and effectiveness and the methods of making various potato powder foods should be widely “propagandised” to them.”

At the state restaurant in Pyongyang, competition organiser Kim Kum Hun, of the central committee of the Korea Cooks Association is an enthusiast.

“Of course rice is our main food but bread and potato powder can be our staple food too,” he said.

Source: Agence France-Presse, published on Gulf Today