Five American-style North Korean restaurants for foodies

This may not have been the case a few years ago, but Pyongyang is definitely on its way to becoming a culinary destination … well, maybe not. Nonetheless, it is pretty wild that the self-isolating regime has let slip some pretty wild information about the dining options available in the capital. If you can finagle a way into North Korea and somehow get yourself a bit of freedom to move, there are now some interesting restaurants for you to visit.

Swing an eating trip to Pyongyang, and you may find yourself munching on the familiar. There are several western-style restaurants popping up in this strange city, so eating like a local may mean eating like you’re home.

Let’s take a look at five restaurants in Pyongyang and how you could scarf that grub in style:1. Okryu Restaurant: just opened last week, this soon-to-be hot spot garnered a mention by the Korea Central News Agency, which means its launch was intended to be made public. The claim is that this place can accommodate thousands of customers, so live on the edge and skip making a reservation.

2. Samtaesung:
a relatively new addition to the Pyongyang culinary scene, this burger joint is open 24 hours a day and still recommends making reservations to pick up your food. This is a place to see and be seen, especially if you’re tight with the regime: Kim Jong-il‘s sister, Kim Kyong-hui, is said to benefit personally from all the cash spent there.

3. Pizza (no name given): dine on pies with ingredients shipped in from Naples and Rome. The first North Korean pizza parlor is said to have been created at the request of Kim Jong-il himself, so you know the quality is going to be top notch! So, without a name, how can you expect to find the place? Ask where the pizza joint is; it’s not like there are dozens.

4. Beach (outside the city): get outside of Pyongyang, and you still have some options. In Wonsan, at the beach, you can find even more pizza. Just remember to wait at least 20 minutes before jumping back into the waves!

5. Cubby’s: this is the restaurant that never happened in Pyongyang. Originally the dream of a New Jersey BBQ joint owner, plans to expand Cubby’s to Pyongyang were explored. The owner, Bobby Egan, befriended some North Korean diplomats assigned to the United Nations in New York City and even took a few trips over to his buddies’ homeland. Alas, according to his recent book, the plans for a DPRK franchise never came to fruition.

[photo by John Pavelka via Flickr]

Former chef to North Korean dictator dishes on change prospects with Kim Jong-un

It looks like Kim Jong-un will follow in the footsteps of his father, Kim Jong-il. This succession plan, of sorts, will extend the Kim dynasty in North Korea to a third generation, separating the top dog even further from the supposed revolutionary exploits of the country’s first leader, Kim Il-sung.

With new blood, of course, the question of change is inevitable. Under Kim Jong-il, there have been brief, constrained flirtations with some activities that could be described as capitalism, particularly in the depths of the famine that struck the nation. Marketplaces for privately grown or procured goods opened, resulting in a black market in plain sight that was subject only to occasional government intervention.

So, can we look for Kim Jong-un to loosen the family’s (allegedly) merciless grip on the country? One man doesn’t think so.

Kenji Fujimoto (not his real name) used to be a personal chef to the current dictator, and despite the pseudonym, sunglasses and bandana – all to conceal his appearance and identity, for security reasons – he somehow finds the media when it’s time to comment on his former employer.

Fujimoto told reporters in Seoul last week not to expect too much too soon. The Wall Street Journal does report that there is long-term hope, however:

Kim Jong Eun, the dictator’s third son who’s emerged as his likely successor, will ultimately have to open up the country, above all, to feed people, Mr. Fujimoto said. But the younger Kim won’t be able to do so in the near term because of his fragile standing in the party.

“He will have no choice but to continue policies set by his father at least for several years,” Mr. Fujimoto said. “So it’s not until a decade later when a policy change, if any, would materialize.”

The chef escaped from North Korea in 2001, without being able to take his wife and two children. He has since written four books about his experiences in the DPRK.

Fujimoto watched the next leader grow up, telling the Wall Street Journal, “I’ve seen him since he was seven, and he always took the lead when he played with his brothers, and his strong leadership disposition was clearly visible.”

[photo by yeowatzup via Flickr]

The beach town you’ll probably never see: Wonsan, North Korea

Umbrellas are firmly planted in the sand, and children splash through the water in pursuit of a ball or each other. The scene is exactly what you’d see on either U.S. coast, or at any number of beaches around the world. And, because access is free, all walks of life can be found lounging on the sand, dipping a toe or simply enjoying each other’s company. Yet, this isn’t just any beach – it’s one of the toughest in the world to reach.

The seaside community of Wonsan affords a bit of relief from what can be a difficult life in North Korea. Food isn’t always easy to come by, and low pay leads to little disposable income – not that everyone would have ample opportunity to use it. None of this prevents people from spending some of their time at the beach, however, a true equalizer in a political environment that seeks exactly that goal (regardless of whether it attains it … or even truly pursues it).

Anyone who’s taken the family to the beach here in the United States, doubtless, knows that snacks can be a bit pricey – and it usually makes sense to bring your own food. Well, it’s time to stop complaining! Compared to the costs in North Korea, you have it easy. Back in Pyongyang, where the sartorial freedom of the beach is not permitted, you’ll drop £4 on a pizza, which is equivalent to three months’ salary for the average person in this “workers’ paradise.”

Check out the original coverage in the Mirror for a glimpse into daily life in North Korea (through authorized photos).

[photo by stngiam via Flickr]

Pyongyang to ditch traffic girls? Progress comes to North Korea

Traffic-directing hotties have always been a staple of the North Korean capital. Chosen for their looks rather than their skills in moving cars smoothly along Pyongyang‘s rather empty streets, the traffic girls have become an attractive attraction in themselves … and it looks like they are set to be retired.

According to a post on the site Pyongynag Traffic Girls, there are reports that the seemingly ubiquitous umbrellas in Pyongyang intersections are going empty, with traffic lights bringing automation to what was once a manual task.

It truly is the end of an era …

Pyongyang Traffic Girls references a story from NK News (the link was not working) and copies the following from the original story:

According to a reliable source in Pyongyang, the famous traffic girls of North Korea‘s capital city have for the most part lost their jobs. Instead, modern low voltage LED based traffic lights have been installed throughout town to control traffic.

The girls were allegedly laid off earlier in the year, however some have been retained in case of long-term power shortages and some (perhaps now working as police due to the white uniform) are manually phasing lights in busy areas, such as near the Koryo hotel.

Currently, people who drive in the city are learning about the traffic lights. There have been some bugs in the systems, it seems, but progress is nonetheless sweeping through the streets of the most insulated nation in the world.

Kim Jong-il likely to inspect biggest North Korea military parade in history

Who doesn’t love a parade, right? Well, there’s a big one coming to Pyongyang. A large military parade is in the works, reports Yonhap News Agency, and it’s expected to be “unprecedented” in scale. In fact, it’s likely to be the largest military parade North Korea has held, possibly twice as large as its predecessors.

Troops, armored vehicles, missiles and other hardware have been amassed at Mirim Airbase in North Korea‘s capital since July 12, 2010, and the rehearsals have involved up to 10,000 soldiers. Kim Jong-il, the Dear Leader himself, is said to be on the hook to inspect the parade.

So, what will be on display? Look for movable missile launch pads, which will probably be used to showcase a variety of missiles under the regime’s control. Further details are being kept quiet.

One defector told Yonhap, “Given the scale of the event this time, however, chances are high that it will be arranged by the National Defense Commission and attended by Kim Jong-il.”

[photo by yeowatzup via Flickr]