August 7, 2014:
North Korea has outlawed South Korean Choco Pies. While these are a cheap (about 25 cents each in South Korea) chocolate covered vanilla cream filled cake snack in South Korea, for North Koreans they are a special treat. Not many sweets are available in North Korea and the Choco Pies (based on a similar popular World War I era snack in the American south) has been tweaked to appeal to Korean tastes.
Each 30 gm (1.1 ounce) Choco Pie has about 125 calories. Choco Pies entered North Korea in large quantities after 2004 when the Kaesong Industrial Complex opened in North Korea. There, over a hundred South Korean companies set up shop and employed more than 50,000 North Koreans. The complex was as a place for South Korean firms to establish factories, using cheaper North Korean workers. The North Korean workers make about $160 a month, which is higher than most other jobs available, even after the North Korean government took 70 percent of it in “taxes”. North Koreans are willing to pay bribes of up to $200 to get jobs at Kaesong. Not just for the higher pay, but for the ability to buy or steal products made there, and sell them on the local black market. The South Korean employers had to pass all worker compensation through the North Korean government and were forbidden to pay workers directly. The North Korean government wanted nothing to do with capitalist practices like better pay for superior performance. The South Koreans found that they could get away with giving snacks to workers as secret bonuses. Choco Pies were particularly popular because they brought the highest prices on the North Korean black market (a dollar or more per Choco Pie).
The North Korean government was not happy with the popularity and growing availability of Choco Pies, which were a tasty reminder that life was better in the capitalist south. For decades North Korean propaganda had insisted that South Koreans were worse off. How was that possible if the southerners had all the Choco Pies they wanted. North Korea officials are not completely clueless and will allow South Korean managers to give out other snacks from the south (sausages and chocolates are popular as are instant noodles). But Choco Pies are a snack too far and are banned.