This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
North Korea is keeping mooncakes out of the country, saying they are an improper foreign influence during an important holiday.
Authorities seized boxes of the dessert pastry with a sweet or savory filling from the luggage of trade officials returning from China for the autumn harvest festival, sources in the region told Radio Free Asia.
“This morning, I received a call from a trading company official who returned home … saying that customs had confiscated the mooncakes he had bought in China,” a North Korean trade worker stationed in China told RFA Korean Wednesday on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
“The reason why they are preventing the inflow of Chinese mooncakes is because they are a traditional Chinese food, not a traditional food of our people,” he said.
This was the first time such steps have been taken, he said.
North Korean trade workers stationed in China’s Liaoning province began the big rush home on Wednesday to celebrate Chuseok, the autumn harvest festival, and they will spend the next 10 days at home before returning to China, a source working at a trade agency in North Korea’s North Pyongan province told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.
“Many trade workers returning home are officials from trade organizations in Pyongyang and Sinuiju,” a North Korean city that lies opposite the Yalu River border from China’s Dandong, he said “Among them are officials who returned home this morning with Chinese mooncakes.”
Chuseok is one of the most important holidays on the Korean peninsula and has drawn comparisons to Thanksgiving in the United States. It is the Korean version of the autumn holiday celebrated throughout Asia, falling on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, or Sept. 29 this year.
On Chuseok, Koreans travel to meet their extended family and honor their ancestors with a large feast that typically includes a jesa table heaping with meat and fish, neatly stacked piles of fruit, pickled vegetables and handmade rice cakes called songpyon.
But in the years that preceded the pandemic, mooncakes from China’s version of the holiday began making an appearance in lieu of songpyon, as food shortages made the rice cakes impractical, the trade worker stationed in China said.
He said that another reason they want to keep the mooncakes might be to try to get the people to buy more locally made snacks and breads.
As mooncakes began spreading through North Korea just prior to the pandemic, they became more and more popular, including among families living in Pyongyang, according to the North Pyongan source. Mooncakes therefore began to be seen as a typical Chuseok food there.
“Demand for mooncakes has increased, so since last week trade workers stationed in China began to ship large amounts of them [across the border] for sale in the Pyongyang markets,” he said. “The authorities finally began cracking down on it.”