Pyongyang has its first hamburger joint, and the locals who can afford it are flocking to the place. With a name rooted firmly in propaganda – not exactly surprising – the restaurant serves distinctly American fare, though I doubt there’s a disclaimer on the menu.
Samtaesung, the name of the fast-food spot, translates to “Three Huge Stars,” an obvious reference to current leader Kim Jong-il, his father Kim Il-sung and the first dictator’s first wife, Kim Jong-suk.
Like the cuisine – and unlike the name – there is a distinctly capitalist flavor to this undertaking. The profits, such a loathsome term in a Communist regime, are going right to Kim Kyong-hui, the Dear Leader’s younger sister. The Korea Times reports:
“Samtaesung (Food) and Cool Beverages is Kim Kyong Hui’s personal operation. It is run by Light Industry Vice Minister and member of Kim Kyong Hui’s inner circle Kim Kyeong Oak, who is in charge of all operations of the hamburger joint, from management to overseas fund transfers,” the official said.
To pick up a burger at Pyongyang‘s Samtaesung, the crowds have made reservations necessary; you have to place your order a day in advance to grab some grub between 6 AM and 11 PM. You can’t make a reservation after 1 PM, because of the long lines that still pressure the 24-hour stand. In a further nod to the regime’s pride, North Korea has not adopted the word “hamburger,” as its neighbor’s to the south have. Rather, they call it “minced meat and bread, reports the Korea Times. Waffles, also on the menu, carry the appellation “baked dough.” Most people do use the term “hamburger,” though.
A burger will set you back around $2 at Samtaesung, making it an unattainable luxury to the average North Korean citizen. The fact that you can make your purchase in U.S. dollars, euros or Chinese yuan – in addition to North Korean won – further indicates the exclusive nature of this establishment.
Curiosity brought the traffic initially, but the locals have developed a taste or “minced meat and bread.” According to the Korea Times, “The third time you eat a hamburger, you really get to appreciate it. By the time you’ve had your fifth, you’re already addicted to the taste,” he said.