My wife has just returned from visiting family in Seoul, and she brought back my favorite souvenir – choco pies. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy them.
Choco pies are a phenomenon. They are hugely popular in Korea itself – with various manufacturers and several varieties – and are much sought-after in other countries, particularly around Asia.
Each pie comprises a creamy marshmallow center, encased in an ultra-light, crumbly cookie and coated with chocolate. They remind me a little of the Easter eggs we ate as kids in New Zealand back in the 1950s, when there wasn’t much variety. These were just ovals of marshmallow coated in chocolate. Simple but delicious.
The choco pies are like that, but with the addition of a layer of cookie. Some also have a little extra flavor added, or perhaps a squirt of jam or syrup. Yet they retain an extreme lightness that makes you want to keep eating.
Choco pies became big news when it was revealed that South Korean companies were giving them to their North Korean employees at factories in a special economic zone created by the two countries.
Forbidden from paying bonuses, the South Koreans gave choco pies instead. This had apparently led to a black market in the delicacies, with North Koreans reportedly willing to pay around $10 for one pie.
Embarrassed that the pies were becoming too popular, the North Korean authorities have at times tried to ban them.
So a few months ago South Korean activists launched 50 balloons across the border bearing 10,000 of the treats, along with leaflets attacking the North Korean regime. In response, North Korea said it might attack the launch sites.
The choco pie has created enormous goodwill among North Koreans towards the South. Might it also spark war?