We never thought this was possible, but did you know you can actually eat North Korean cuisine at a North Korean restaurant run by the North Korean government and not get shot? Hella cool!
For many, the thought of going to North Korea is as enticing as getting your crotch waxed. Not that anyone on the Foodamentals staff has ever had the experience of getting a crotch wax, but we would be lying if we didn’t say the Groupon looked enticing… once… twice, maybe.
Getting into North Korea is unfathomable, trying to eat their cuisine, nearly impossible unless you could give a shit about living. Not only do you have to get pass the machine guns, barbed wire and possibly dragons, but I couldn’t imagine trying to make it through my stay given the recent internet outages. You would think a country hell bent on conquering the world could afford something better than a 14.4k AOL connection. But I digress…
When we found out that we could totally eat at a North Korean restaurant without fear of getting thrown into a labor internment camp, we were on that like white on rice. In fact, our last trip to Shanghai, we found out that there is an entire chain of North Korean restaurants serving North Korean cuisines managed by North Koreans that are scattered all across China.
The Pyongyang Koryo Restaurant is a chain of restaurants managed by the North Korean government and staffed by North Koreans who also live on the restaurant premises. The chain has a multitude of branches scattered all around Asia, including Beijing, Shanghai and even Jakarta. In Shanghai, there are three branches. We visited the branch located on the first floor of the TongMao Hotel on the Pudong side of Shanghai. From what I hear out there, all of the branches are pretty similar in the service, food and experience. Being lazy, we picked the one that was the closest to our hotel.
Entering the Tong Mao hotel, the restaurant is located to your immediate left. You are greeted with this brightly lit neon sign that sits right above the lounge where (I’m assuming) Chinese and Korean business men do their business-like work.
Right down the hallway is the actual entrance to the Pyongyang Koryo Restaurant. There are only waitresses that work at the restaurants. No waiters and/or bus boys. Only waitresses who all speak impeccable Mandarin Chinese.
Each waitress was dressed in brightly colored North Korean traditional garbs and super attentive. Honestly, these are probably some of the most well trained and courteous wait staff I have ever met. Damn, they are good.
North Korean branding is everywhere. From the wet naps to the decor on the wall, you feel as though you just left Shanghai and are now transported into another time and place.
Leather bound menus with an extensive array of North Korean foods…
Full of foods that are somewhat familiar but also very foreign. They remind me more of Chinese dishes rather than what we come to expect as “Korean” food in the United States. Notice how light on sauces and spices each of the dishes are. In fact, unlike South Korean cuisine, North Korean cuisine is not spicy at all.
Lots of lightly seasoned vegetables.
Seafood and fish are also super popular here.
Instead of a wide multitude of small dishes(banchon) that we expect from Korean barbecue, we were given small samplings of the following prior to our meal. Starting with lightly seasoned cold beans.
Followed up with some lightly spiced cabbage that I originally thought was kimchi. When asked if it was kimchi, I was given a stern, no. Not wanting to get shot, I told them it tasted awesome.
Tofu skin with cucumber. A standard Chinese style dish.
A sauce to flavor the meats.
And lettuce to wrap around the meats.
A tall glass of North Korean beer to wash it all down. The beer is somewhat “flowery” and super light, sort of as if someone spilled potpourri into a barrel of Budweiser. But, its not bad. Just be careful cause the prices will completely rape your wallet at about $15 USD a pop.
Ah! Now here comes the main courses. Starting with grilled/fried/unknown style strips of pork belly. Reminds me of bacon, but with a decorative piece and sesame seeds on top.
Meat wasn’t that bad. Not really barbecued, more like it was fried.
Cold noodles in pork+beef+chicken broth topped with pollock(fish).
Close up and uninhibited shot of the cold noodles in broth(made from pork, beef and chicken stock).
One grilled abalone. Why one? Cause it was not cheap.
Here comes the sundae(blood sausage made with pork blood and rice wrapped in long intestines).
Let’s see how this sundae(blood sausage) tastes.
Lets see if drinking another round of beer will make it better.
Luckily the floor show came on.
The house band and performers will do the same performance every night at 7/7:30pm. So make sure you get there on time.
The band reminds me of an all female version of the Beetles, circa 1960. I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen anyone play an accordion outside of Tennessee.
It’s probably the only time I’ve seen an electric accordion used in a performance that didn’t take place in a barn and had goats roaming the premises.
But none the less, they rock!
Wondering if their greatest hits will ever be released on DVD? I’m going to check Amazon.
With that, the dinner is over. They ask me if I could leave them some feedback, so I left them this note thanking them for a great time. Signed, Andy.
Even though we aren’t allowed to take videos, we managed to film a few precious seconds of it before the staff told us we weren’t allowed to film.
Lastly, if you stay here long enough, the wait staff will try and pull you up on stage to dance. I did it and it was pretty damn fun. Granted, I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but hey, when in Rome…
Things that surprised me the most after eating here:
- How pretty the hand selected North Korean waitresses are. Thin, fair skinned and freakishly well mannered. Almost stepson wife-ish.
- The beer is ridiculously expensive.
- No, they don’t have kimchi so don’t bother asking for it.
- Bulgolgi? What’s that?
- As a foreigner, it is almost certain a performer will grab you to dance on stage. Don’t be a wuss, do it like its your 21st birthday.
- There is a good number of Chinese locals who come here.
- The waitresses all learned Chinese after arriving in China.
Big ups to Lara Li for coming along and diving head first and not throwing up on the spot. Lara is a professional tour guide based out of Shanghai and is available for food+sites+clubbing tours all around Shanghai. Possibly, one of the best guides/fixers I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or book her at Viator and/or synotrip.
平壤高丽饭店 | Pyongyang Koryo Restaurant
Located on the first floor of the TongMao Hotel(通茂大酒店)
浦东新区 松林路357号通茂大酒店1楼(近浦电路), Shanghai, China