Rice had been a precious and rare thing before the country's modernization. In northern region of the peninsula, in particular, where rice farming was less popular than in the southern provinces due to the lack of paddies, boiled rice or "ssalbap" was a specialty for family celebrations.
About 30 years ago, the biggest wish of hungry children from poor families was without a doubt the desire to eat plain, boiled white rice and beef soup. During those times, not only could they not afford to buy rice but it was not abundant.
A "legendary" sad episode involving the foreign wife of a top national leader in the 1950s showcases the serious shortage of rice at that time: The lady heard that many people, especially in the farming villages, in early spring, were going hungry for they had no rice to eat. She asked, "Then, why don't they eat bread?"
Rice has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years on the peninsula. It is the staple grain of Koreans, which has shaped their culture, dietcooked rice and of rice snacks, though. According to the Korea Rural Economic Institute, Americans' rice consumption per capita rose from 11.9 kilograms in 1990 to 13.4 kilograms in 2003.
Rice farming still remains important politically and socially, even if its contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) is less than 10 percent, as seen in the yearly routine of the National Assembly to set the government's purchase price of the year's rice crops from farmers.