Pizza Restaurant: Let them eat pizza
My reader may be familiar with the retort “let them eat cake’ attributed (probably wrongly) to Queen Marie Antoinette. The retort was made on hearing that French peasants had no bread and showed the speaker's obliviousness to the condition of the people, especially given that cake (or brioche) was actually more expensive than bread.
Many will know that the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il had a taste for the good things of life and lapped it up while millions, less fortunate than he, died. He was famous for a life of wine, women and song. Until he gave it up on medical advice, he was the largest consumer of Hennessy in the world and his foreign film collection was one of the largest in the world.
At one point he developed what was to be a lifelong love for pizza and decreed that his people should have pizza (benevolent and loving as he was). In the late 1990s a team of Italian chefs was flown in to set up a pizza restaurant in Pyongyang and train army officers and others in the art of making pizza. It must have come as a shock to the trainees to have Italian chefs train them rather than Kim Jong-il himself who, like his father, was famous for his ability to give ‘on the spot guidance’ on virtually anything to his people. The story goes that those foreigners selected to cook pizza in the Dear Leader’s marble palace first had to undergo x-rays, brain scans and urine and blood sampling.
It took ten years of heroic struggle on the part of Kim Jong-il before he was satisfied with the quality of the pizza produced in North Korea. At that point, in 2009, he authorized the opening of the restaurant.
While Kim Jong-il decreed that the people should have pizza very few could afford it – all the ingredients were, as they still are, shipped in from Italy. Today only the elite and tourists eat pizza in this, North Korea’s only pizza restaurant which is very originally named “Pizza Restaurant”!
The restaurant is located in a bland building with no advertising (like every other business). However, on entering the restaurant we were immediately transported to Italy with columns, brick walls, red table clothes and all the expected accoutrements and ambiance, right down to that unique smell of cooking pizza. Our taste buds were ignited as we awaited our pre-ordered pizza’s. The selection was similar to what you would find in a pizza place anywhere.
While service was a bit slow and the pizzas arrived sporadically, when they did turn up they were absolutely delicious and indeed some of the best pizzas I have eaten anywhere in the world. The restaurant also serves pasta, other Italian dishes and some Korean food for the non adventurous.
There was off course a North Korean twist – our pizza was accompanied by beer or water (no problem there) and karaoke with our waitresses leading us in song
This was, without a doubt, the best food we got in North Korea and an opportunity you should follow-up with your guides on arrival if not listed on your itinerary. Contrary to popular opinion, itineraries can often be changed. The experience did come at a supplement of Euro 10 per person – well worth it.
Favorite Dish: Pizza - all types were good (we shared!)
- Food and Dining
Revolving Restaurant (Yanggakdo Hotel): Food with a View
Most of the restaurants that tourists will be able to eat at have the same basic menus and quality of food. The revolving restaurant on the top of the Yanggakdo Hotel offers a basic breakfast for guests, but also offers a room with a view while having either a dinner or a casual drink at the end of the day.
The food is slightly above average, but the view is quite memorable.
Favorite Dish: Basic meals of bulgogi (expensive) or noodle dishes (cheap) are the standard fare.
- Food and Dining
any restaurant: North Korea's famous Cold Noodle Soup
I've had Korean Cold Noodle Soup many times, but only once in North Korea. All the other times were south of the border.
But in all the Koreans I've spoken to, they all said North Korean's "Nang Myeung" (Cold Noodle) is the most famous food of North Korea, other than ginseng.
The one I had was not anything special compared to those I had in South Korea, but you can't travel all the way to North Korea and NOT try it.
Favorite Dish: The cold noodle soup is just that, noodles in a cold broth, served with a small mixture of greens. Koreans eat this more commonly during colder months, believing it is better for their health.
Pyongyang I: Lunch on the River by Juche Tower
Like most things in Pyongyang, your guides are in control of what you do and where you go. If this restaurant is not in your agenda, you may politely ask and they might make it happen. After all, it never hurts to ask...
Favorite Dish: While the food is nothing different from the other meals you will have in Pyongyang, the lunch proceeds a ~30 minute trip on the Taedong river.
After ~15 minutes of eating, the boat will cast off on the start of its journey. If you finish your meal, you may go onto the deck of the boat and get see the Juche Tower and other monuments from the river.
Ryonggak Mountain picnic lunch: Eating al-fresco
After we had visited Kim Il Sung's birth place at Mangyongdae, we had an outside barbeque picnic lunch at a place called Ryonggak Mountain. Again the food was excellent and a food way to cook and eat. We had, what we hoped were, beef and duck on skewers which we cooked on a small grill on the table, salad, bread and more bottles of beer.
Pyongyang No.1 Duck Barbeque: Great food and fun as well
We came here on our last evening in North Korea and the food was top rate. It was a duck barbeque restaurant where you cooked the food yourselves at your table and was good fun. Included were bottles of beer and even some rice wine.
Lunch on day 2: Traditional Korean cooking
This was lunch on our first full day in Pyongyang in a restaurant opposite some embassies, including Romania and Iran, on a street called Sariwon Street in the east of the city. Don't ask me what the restaurant was called but the food was great. You cooked it yourself in a small pot in front of you which was good fun.
Yanggakdo Hotel Restaurants: Not bad but not as good as one's in the city
We ate a couple of times in two of the Yanggakdo Hotels restaurants. The first night of the tour we ate at the No.2 restaurant and had soup/bread, beef burger, salad and beer served to us by girls wearing traditional Korean dresses. We also had breakfast every morning which consisted of toast, eggs, coffee and yoghurt. The food was fairly good but not as good as other restaurants that we went out to in the city.
no name: You can't choose a restaurant
You can't choose where will you eat because whole trip is usually define in advance. Also, you hardly can choose food. The only thing when they make a difference is if you are vegetarian or not; or if you don't eat sea food or not. But even then we had some funny situations.
Food is average, nothing special. And you won't starve, you are country's guest so there'll be plenty of food for you.
Favorite Dish: Korean BBQ
Such restaurants as there are,...
Such restaurants as there are, are devoted to foreign guests. They are huge buildings, rather sterile and very grandiose, in which there are about a dozen diners. The picture is of the Juche Tower, the view from the top is very impressive and as you can see, when the 'flame' is illuminated very impressive at night - especially when the rest of the city is effectively black. It's designed as a monument to Kim-Il Sung's ideology and every aspect of it's dimensions (right down to the number of bricks) reflects the life of KIS. Directly in front of it is the main river, and two huge fountains, like the Jet D'eau in geneva - except these are the tallest fountains in the world - as the guide will tell you.
Probably one of the few places in the world where the restaurants open when you arrive and shut when you leave. And each diner has his/her own waitress (no waiters).
Favorite Dish: All the food is good (if you like noodles). Dairy is best avoided. Dog is strictly for those with no taste buds. Mars Bars are in fairly short supply.
Yanggakdo International Hotel, Pyongyang: Yanggakdo International Hotel, Pyongyang
When travelling in a guided tour you don't have much choice
Therefore you will end up eating in your hotel, quite often.
Favorite Dish: All kind of asian meals. They were more or less o.k, but not outstanding.