A seafood stall in Rason Special Economic Zone in North Korea. Photo: Weibo
A seafood stall in Rason Special Economic Zone in North Korea. Photo: Weibo

Want to try the seafood harvested near North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province that is said to be a favorite of supreme leader Kim Jong-un?

Voracious Chinese gourmands from the northeastern Liaoning and Jilin provinces are joining one-day trips to hop across the border to gorge themselves on North Korean seafood. The numbers of visitors involved are so significant that this could become a valued source of foreign exchange revenue for a benighted Communist nation hit by embargoes and sanctions.

Chinese foodies are flocking to markets across the border in North Hamgyong and North Pyongan provinces to partake of fresh crab, shellfish, shrimp and oysters, according to a saleswoman from a Jilin-based travel agency operating such day trips, and cited by Global Times, a Beijing publication.

North Korea’s Rason Special Economic Zone was established in 1992 by Kim Il-sung to promote foreign investment. But it is now better-known among Chinese tourists for fresh, cook-to-order seafood that commands a fraction of the prices back home. And conveniently, seafood stall owners are more than happy to accept payments in Chinese yuan.

For instance, freshly-caught Korean crabs are 180 yuan (US$26) per kilo in Rason but may fetch up to 360 yuan in Jilin, according to a travel guide at the agency. She went on to say that about 200 seafood fans a day join tours to Rason. They return on the same day with their appetites satiated and without burning a big hole in their pockets.

For Chinese citizens, immigration is a formality: visas are not required, and all Chinese visitors need only carry their passport or Chinese ID card. That gets them through the border and to and from the seafood feasts that act as such a big attraction.

Inside a seafood market designated for foreign vistors in Rason Special Economic Zone. Photo: Weibo

There are, however, some restrictions. Chinese diners can visit only designated seafood markets and are not allowed to go elsewhere. No sightseeing is included in the tours.

The only risk? Sometimes Chinese customs officials do not allow compatriots to bring back raw seafood they bought at the markets.

But the rumored upcoming state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Pyongyang may spell ill for northern seafood venders and their Chinese patrons.

Reports in Jilin and Liaoning say that, to ensure absolute border security and to make Xi’s trip a smooth one, travel agencies have been ordered to cancel all cross-border seafood tours until further notice.