Since the New York Times just published an interesting account of the Pyongyang Restaurant in Siem Reap, I thought I would write a quick post about my recent trip to the North Korean Restaurant in Vientiane, Laos (평양식당)–my first North Korean restaurant experience outside of the DPRK.
The restaurant is located just a couple of blocks from one of Vientiane’s most popular landmarks, Wat Pha That Luang:
I arrived at the restaurant on December 28, 2011, the date of Kim Jong-il’s funeral. I was eager to see if the restaurant would be doing anything special to mark the occasion…and they did: they were closed for the week. A sign on the door read in English and Lao something close to “Apologies, but we are closed for five days”.
As I stood at the front door reading the “closed” sign, one of the waitresses walked out and offered to serve me a drink in the adjacent outdoor seating area (where the grills are located). I accepted.
In what I believe was perfect Korean (sarcasm here), I asked if they served Taedonggang Beer. But they only served “Beer Lao” (Which is just about the only beer you can get in the country—fortunately it is a tasty one). As I enjoyed my drink, I asked the waitress if the restaurant was closed because of the General’s death, and she made a sad face and nodded her head. So I finished my drink, paid, and continued on with my vacation.
On January 9, 2012, I returned to the restaurant for a proper meal. When I walked into the restaurant I felt like I was back in the DPRK. The decorations and smell came rushing back to memory.
There were no overt signs of propaganda in the restaurant—likely because the bulk of the customers are South Koreans. The only subtle symbol that could be construed as propaganda would be the pictures of Mt. Paektu. These, however, would likely be interpreted as just a symbol of Korea to the South Korean patrons. Mt. Paekdu was featured outside on a big sign posted to the front of the building and inside on a smaller painting…right next to the restaurant’s Christmas tree. The wall decoration and paintings primarily featured pictures of Korean landscapes, crashing waves, women in hanboks and of course Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and Mona Lisa.
Surprisingly the menu featured several Tangogi (“Sweet” Dog meat) dishes. It was surprising to me because the Laotians do not eat dog. But they probably do not eat here much either if only because of the prices. I ordered a Tofu and kimchi dish as a starter and topped it off with some Pyongyang cold noodles and Ryongthongsul (령통술) Soju (from Kaesong).
Of course there was dancing and karaoke as well:
The waitress/performers opened with Arirang, but then sang a couple of songs that the Chinese and South Koreans seemed to know. I was also able to recognize “Pangap Sunmida” and “Whiperan”. I requested a song but they just laughed and said no. I guess my tastes are out of date–even in North Korea.
Eventually I was invited to sing a karaoke song as well. In tribute to Shane Smith, I thought about singing the Sex Piltols’ “Anarchy in the UK”, but I was just too tired and not interested in making a scene.
Before I left, I asked the waitresses where they went to university. They attended the Pyongyang University of Music and Dance (평양음악무용대학)–which was rencetly refurbished:
1. I have marked many of the DPRK’s restaurants on Google Earth, but not all of them. If you visit one, or know where one is, please let me know.
2. I have posted many articles on the DPRK’s domestic, joint venture, and international restaurants. You can read them here.