x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Subversive chocolate

What does revolution look like? In the case of North Korea it's a 10-centimetre disc of chocolate, with a spongey marshmallow centre.

What does revolution look like? In this case, apparently, a 10-centimetre disc of chocolate with a spongey marshmallow centre.

Choco pies have been banned by North Korean authorities, apparently out of fear of their propaganda effect. The confections may no longer be offered at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint initiative where North Korean employees earn relatively high wages working for South Korean companies. The South Koreans' snack had become too popular among employees, who were taking them home to trade in the North's fledgling free markets.

And therein lies the bite. Like many an authoritarian regime, North Korea has laboured hard to convince its people that their society is a utopia compared to their "decadent" neighbours. The humble choco pie, individually wrapped, unvarying in quality and quite tasty too, shows a level of sophistication quite beyond the North's state-run economy.

The South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reports that three pies would trade for 100 grams of rice. "Officials in the North have singled out choco pies as an agent that may be spreading anti-socialist values," an anonymous South Korean official told the paper. And you know you have bigger problems when you are afraid of a chocolate pie.