North Korea gave the gift of mushrooms—$2.6 million worth—at the last Korean summit

From North Korea with love.
From North Korea with love.
Image: Reuters/Korea pool
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North Korea and its southern neighbor will hold a top-level summit for just the third time tomorrow, and gift exchanges will no doubt be part of the proceedings. It remains to be seen what Kim Jong-un will give South Korean president Moon Jae-in, and vice versa, when they meet at the border.

We can look back to the last inter-Korean summit, which took place in Pyongyang in 2007 (after the first one in 2000), for hints of what Kim has in store for his counterpart from Seoul. The leaders at that time were Kim Jong-il (the current Kim’s father) and South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, the political mentor of Moon, then his chief of staff and chairperson of the promotion committee for the summit.

Roh knew Kim Jong-il loved movies, so he gave him a collection of South Korean films and TV dramas—banned, of course, in the north—and also a tea set and a painted folding screen. The current Kim is known to enjoy basketball, so perhaps something related to the sport will be forthcoming from Moon.

As for the late Kim, he gave Roh 500 boxes of pine mushrooms, then worth up to $2.6 million. The mushrooms are considered a delicacy in the Koreas and Japan and are known for their distinct spicy aroma. The boxes were trucked to the border for Roh to take back after the three-day summit.

At the time the mushrooms sold for about $650 per kilogram; prices tend to be much lower these days, but vary as unusual weather can result in a weak crop.

Pine mushrooms—also known by the names songyi in Korea and matsutake in Japan—are finicky about where they grow, requiring just the right conditions. As with truffles, there are hunters who pour considerable time and energy into finding them in the wild.

They could be presented again as a gift, and they are listed on the menu for when the leaders dine together. Nearly every entree on that menu is meaningful in some way. The gifts exchanged tomorrow will likely be as well.