In a special episode of Digitalsoju TV, four North Koreans now living in South Korea gathered for an all-American style Thanksgiving at Ryan Smokehouse, a Seoul barbecue restaurant founded by Texas native Ryan Phillips.
In the 18-minute video, co-producer and host Sky sat down with Minho, Yumi, Inha, and Eunhee, who all didn’t know much about the holiday.
“I first heard of it when I came to South Korea but still didn’t really know the meaning,” Minho shares. “But while attending church, I heard that Americans attend a Thanksgiving worship service and eat tasty food they prepped at home. That’s about all I know.”
The table lit up as soon as Chef Phillips served turkey — the star of Thanksgiving — along with other holiday staples that he grew up with.
“Oh my god!” Eunhee exclaims. “It’s the same size as me.”
Phillips went on to tell more about the dishes served at the table, including mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, yeast rolls, and sausages made at the smokehouse.
“It’s really an honor to share American Thanksgiving with you guys,” Phillips says. “I don’t know how many chefs get to cook for folks like yourselves, so thank you for coming.”
Eunhee, who has been learning English for three years, thanked Phillips in return.
“Oh my god, you know when I was in North Korea, we called Americans ‘American bastards’ because America was our worst enemy in the world. But now, you’re an angel! Thank you! Thank you so much.”
While Phillips carved the turkey, the group dug right into the table.
It turns out that none of the four guests had turkey served in such a way in the past. The other meals — especially the sausages — were also a luxury.
“One thing about sausages I wanted to mention…they’re really expensive in North Korea,” Eunhee shares. “Only the elite and rich can afford them. Most people can barely afford rice, so sausages are unfathomable. But the sausages right here are over a thousand times better than what I had in North Korea.”
Others then shared about the kinds of meat they managed to eat in North Korea.
“I’ve had snake before,” Inha, who now goes by the nickname “Iron,” reveals. “When we caught snakes, they would bring them to me. I’d skin and prepare them. I’d cook and eat them with my parents.”
When asked which of the side dishes was the best, all four had their own preferences.
Eunhee picked mashed potatoes because she didn’t get to eat potatoes often in her home city of Wonsan.
On the contrary, Minho said that he had eaten potatoes for 20 years back home. He picked mac and cheese.
“For 20 years of my life, I mostly ate mashed potatoes. Where I’m from, potatoes were the main staple. So we ate potatoes with rice, potato soup and potato cakes. Everything was made from potatoes. In my first three years here, I didn’t even want to look at potatoes.”
Yumi picked the green bean casserole for good reason.
“I’ve always really liked vegetables. The smell reminds me of a dish I had in North Korea.”
Inha liked the green bean casserole too, but picked Turkey as the best on the table.
“Overall, everything was so good it’s hard for me to choose one.”
As the group enjoyed pumpkin pies for dessert, Sky asked what they are most thankful for.
“There’s a lot,” Yumi, for one, points out. “I’m married and have two kids, a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old. If I hadn’t escaped from North Korea and my kids were born there, we’d have no freedom, no future. They would have grown up not knowing what the world has to offer, like a frog trapped in a well.”
“What I’m most grateful for is the fact that my children won’t have to go through the same things I did.”