Pyongyang: North Korea's chain of restaurants

The North Korean government operates a chain of hard-currency restaurants throughout Asia, as a means of bringing cash into the country. The Pyongyang restaurants feature abundant food (unlike Pyongyang itself), as well as a floor-show.
Aside from small North Korean flags pinned to the waitresses' blouses, the restaurant is surprisingly free from overt propagandizing. Instead of paeans to the Great Leader and his revolutionary juche ideology, the walls are adorned with a series of monumental landscape paintings. One crashing seascape, rendered in an apocalyptic palette of blues, greens, and reds, recalls the painting used as a backdrop to the official photo of Kim Jong-il and Bill Clinton that was taken during Clinton's visit to Pyongyang in August. The cold flood-lighting and no-camera policy (often violated on the sly by curious Western expats) also lend an Orwellian tinge to an evening at Pyongyang, though the authoritarian mood is often broken by the sound of drunken South Korean businessmen warbling their way through the restaurant's thick karaoke catalog...

In 2006 and 2007, Daily NK reported several incidents in which waitresses from North Korean restaurants in China's Shandong and Jilin provinces tried to defect, forcing the closure of the operations. Kim Myung Ho added that two or three DPRK security agents live onsite at each restaurant to "regulate" the workers and that any attempts at flight result in the immediate repatriation of the entire staff.

Kingdom Kim's Culinary Outposts (via Kottke)

(Image: Slate)


  1. I can only snark about the need for Kim Jong Il to put the effort, or money, into feeding his own people. I’m sure any profits from this go mainly into the military, which is upheld to silliest degree.

    Got to wonder how much cash these things bring in.

  2. I ate in the one in Vientiane in Laos. I didn’t want to support North Korea, but eventually my curiosity got the better of me. (Plus it only cost a few dollars.)
    No floor show, and I had the wierdest Bibimbap I’d ever had (and I lived in South Korea for over a year). So yeah, would not recommend.

  3. So, is this about EARNING hard currency or about passing “supernotes”*. I’m guessing the latter is as important as the former.

    *NK government printed counterfeit.

  4. If only Cuba would copy this plan, here in the US. Yum, steak palomillo, ropa vieja, cafe con leche….

  5. I drove by the one in Siem Reap, Cambodia…really wish I had gone, but then again I guess my money would have been going straight to the DPRK govt…so maybe not

  6. My horror at the ongoing clusterfreak that is NK and subsequently not really wanting to support the regime in any way would probably be overcome by curiosity, if I were to ever stumble across one of these. What does NK cuisine consist of? The same type of stuff that you can find at any Korean restaurant, or things like grass souffle?

  7. I went to one in Beijing. Very weird atmosphere. Almost seemed like a museum. The food was completely forgettable.

  8. It would be hard to pass one of the restaurants by, that’s for sure. It’s hard to admit that my principles can be bought out for the price of a DPRK floor show, but it’s hard to deny the hope that something suitably insane would happen.

    Kind of like if there were a Charles Manson restaurant.

  9. The inability to vote with one’s wallet is startling: curiosity is enough to overcome supporting one of the most anti-human governments on Earth??

    Acts like(visiting these restaurant, purchasing products from other bad actors) these contribute to tobacco companies fleecing of us, Wall Street collapse, and other awful thing.

    Irrational purchasing=you are basically murdering people with each purchase.

  10. “any attempts at flight result in the immediate repatriation of the entire staff.”

    Wow.. if only we could do that with McDonalds employees…

  11. I went to the one in Phnom Penh in early 2004. Very surreal- waitresses would suddenly cease serving to go onstage and play musical instruments, sing, or dance. I don’t actually remember the food itself, though: too much else to take in.

    Compared to other eateries I went to in the city, it seemed rather upscale and fancy; also, relatively expensive for Phnom Penh. I remember the bathrooms looking very Western, with wide stalls and multiple sinks: a layout like you’d see in an Olive Garden or something.

    And, yes, there were pictures of Kim Jong Il on the wall, but the decor was more understated than I expected.

  12. To expand on Anon #3’s cryptic comment: This is eerily similar to the chain of clone-run fast-food restaurants in the dystopian future Korea in two chapters of David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas. In fact, I wonder if Mitchell knew about this and was inspired by it?

  13. I really have to wonder how much of the country there would be left if everyone who could defect was just let go.

  14. The restaurant business? That’s the best the North Koreans could come up with for a way of making hard cash overseas? The Chinese are at least smart enough to send hookers.

    (I kid, I kid. I know the Chinese hookers aren’t sent by the government).

  15. These places should be avoided. It’s interesting to go, but you’re giving money to a murderous tyrant. Instead lend some money to North Korean defectors; it will leave you with a better taste in your mouth.

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