What does capitalism taste like? To North Korean leaders, like a small, round chocolate-coated cake filled with marshmallow.
The Choco Pie is a packaged confection manufactured by South Korea's Orion. It's delicious--spongy, creamy, and not overly sweet like a Hostess CupCake. And North Koreans can't seem to get enough of them.
BBC reports that a few years ago, South Korea set up an industrial park in the North Korean town of Kaesong. The factories employed North Korean workers, but the companies weren't allowed to pay them cash bonuses. So they started rewarding them with food items, including Choco Pies.
Yet the workers were savvy--instead of eating the pies, they would haul them back to Pyongyang and sell them for three to four times their original price.
By 2010, nearly 2.5 million Choco Pies were traded on the North Korean black market every month, according to the Chosun Ilbo.
Andrei Lankov, an expert on North Korea, told The Guardian that in the closed society, Choco Pies are "an important mind-changing instrument."
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"It has become a symbol of South Korean prosperity--and North Koreans read it," he said. "They are suffering and starving, but thanks to Choco Pies, DVDs and large-scale labour migration to China, people don't buy the old story [that the South is even poorer]."
Alarmed by the snack craze, North Korean leaders tried to stop the underground trade by replacing the pies with instant noodles at the factories.
But as Yonhap News reported, "The move is seen in South Korea as an attempt by the communist regime to curb the spread of the capitalist ideas the marshmallow-filled cakes have come to symbolize."