Connect with us

China Food & Drinks

Dinner in Pyongyang – North Korea’s Government-Run Restaurant in Beijing

Pyongyang is a restaurant chain owned and operated by the North Korean government. Pyongyang Restaurants, all staff from the DPRK’s capital, offer a glimpse inside the world’s most secretive nation.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

Pyongyang is a restaurant chain owned and operated by the North Korean government. The restaurants, all staff from the DPRK’s capital, offer a glimpse inside the world’s most secretive nation. What’s on Weibo went for a North Korean bite in the Beijing branch.

Three waitresses greet us with a short and stern smile when we walk into Beijing’s Pyongyang Restaurant (平壤馆). They all have pretty faces, and their clothes and make-up look impeccable. When we are seated and receive the menu, my friend asks our waitress in Korean: “Where are you from?” “Pyongyang,” she says (we could have guessed), and her smile is gone. She leaves the table before we can ask another question.

korean1

North Korea is one of the most secretive states in the world. The country made international headlines this week when its government announced it had succeeded in testing a hydrogen bomb. Even to China, North Korea’s closest economic and diplomatic ally, the country remains unpredictable, and many Chinese seem to find the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) an intriguing subject; ‘North Korea’ (朝鲜) has become a daily recurring topic on Chinese social media.

Since the 1990s, the North Korean government has opened Pyongyang Restaurants in several countries across Asia. Except for the restaurants in China near to the North Korean border and elsewhere (Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin, etc), there are also branches in Jakarta, VientianePhnom Penh, Kuala Lumpur, and other cities. The branch in Cambodia’s Siem Reap is one of the oldest and biggest in Southeast Asia, and is very popular amongst locals and tourists. In 2012, a Dutch branch was opened in Amsterdam, but it was permanently closed in 2014.

outside 1

Outside the North Korean Pyongyang Restaurant in Beijing’s Chaoyang District.
Pyongyang Restaurants are set up as an extra source of income for the North Korean regime, according to Korean expert Bertil Linter (author of Great Leader, Dear Leader). Restaurants are easy to set up, and do not require a lot of special expertise, scholar Simon Duncan writes (2014, 77); they are therefore a relatively uncomplicated way to acquire foreign currency for the leadership. Many foreigners, fascinated with the hermit kingdom, are willing to pay for overpriced food in exchange for a ‘North Korean experience’.

An additional reason why restaurants are an interesting business venture for the DPRK leadership, Duncan writes, is that they offer a chance “to spy on South Korean business people and gain knowledge from them when they are drunk” (2014, 77). This claim is confirmed by the
Korea Joongang Daily, that reports how waitresses eavesdrop on their guests’ conversations to gather information on public opinion. They are ordered to keep the North Korean authorities posted on a daily basis. According to sources, there are surveillance cameras and wiretapping devices installed in some establishments.

In a way, Pyongyang Restaurants are extensions of the North Korean state, and are controlled just as strictly. Much has been written about the mysterious lives of the restaurant’s staff (see XinhuaBBC, The Atlantic, The Guardian, etc.) Waitresses are carefully selected based on their (privileged) family background, looks and height.

Living in cosmopolitan cities does not bring North Korean waitresses a modern lifestyle; they do not have a phone, nor internet, and live highly regimented lives. They often live above or near the restaurant, and are not allowed to freely roam around the city. They are sent back to their homeland once their period of work abroad is finished. If they escape, their families in North Korea face punishment, DPRK expert Marcus Noland says.

_74903370_waitresses624afp

North Korean waitresses in Amsterdam (source: BBC)
Beijing’s Pyongyang Restaurant is one of the most well-known and affordable of the city’s several North Korean restaurants. According to the first page on the menu, it was established here over 18 years ago. The restaurant frequently pops up on Sina Weibo, where netizens share their experiences.

“I drove two friends back to Beijing yesterday. When we got there it was already noon, and we decided to go to Beijing’s famous North Korean Pyongyang Restaurant,” one netizen writes: “The restaurant food is okay, better than most Korean places. The waitresses all come from North Korea, and apart from us, nobody seemed to speak Chinese. Although the waitresses were helpful, there was certainly some distance.”

“From the ink paintings on the wall, via the North Korean songs on their television, to the pretty North Korean waitresses; it all creates such a strange atmosphere”, another Weibo netizen writes.

We experience that same strange atmosphere upon our visit to Pyongyang Restaurant. The dining hall is brightly lit with fancy chandeliers, but the rest of the restaurant’s decor is surprisingly plain and grey. The North Korean landscape paintings on the wall give an extra Pyongyang feel to the restaurant. The television in the corner of the room shows a music programme on Korean Central Television.

furniture

painting

According to the outside sign of the Chinese health inspection, this restaurant is a ‘B’ – which means that it is advised to “dine in restaurants of higher sanitation ratings”. Although the restaurant looks fairly clean, its only toilet looks less immaculate.

toilet

health

It is a Sunday night, and only about 6 of the restaurant’s 16 tables are occupied. The restaurant’s guests are mostly South Korean and Chinese.

The menu offers a selection of different dishes, ranging from 20 RMB (3 US$) cold noodles, to 1080 RMB (164 US$) seafood soup. There are several fish dishes priced around 100 RMB (15 US$), or whole chickens of 198 RMB (30 US$). We start off with a cold made-in-DPKR Taedonggang beer, which tastes fresh and hoppy.

The waitresses do speak some Chinese, but with our broken Korean, we succeed in ordering some traditional dishes, such as Kimchi, mixed rice dish Bibimbap, blood sausage (a stew of Sundae), and a tofu soup (Sundubu jjigae).

northkoreanbeer

Made in the DPRK: Taedonggang Beer.
menu1

Different items from the menu.
kimchi

Kimchi dish
bibimbap whatsonweibo

Bibimbap
The dishes are plain and somewhat bland. You don’t need to come to Pyongyang Restaurant for the food – it’s the performances that matter. The waitresses run around after serving the dishes to get changed. At 19.30 sharp, the restaurant’s daily music show begins. The waitresses are multi-talented: they can sing, dance, and play the flute. They perform a surreal combination of upbeat North Korean ‘pop’ songs, opera, brass band, and traditional Chinese songs, dressed in different outfits.

dress shot whatsonweibo

dwarsfluit whatsonweibo

north korean band whatsonweibo

two dresses whatsonweibo

restaurant full whatsonweibo

After the performances, the staff’s uniforms and serious faces return, and the waitresses go back to their routine duties – clearing the tables and bringing the bill. The fake rose that they brought to our table during one of their performances is taken back; we are not allowed to keep it.

On Weibo, people seem amazed with the fact that all staff is from North Korea. Other aspects of the restaurant also surprises them: “I went to Pyongyang Restaurant with my friend the other day,” one netizen writes: “And as usual, I turn on my phone to connect to the wifi. To my surprise, I found none. ‘Why is there no wifi?’ I mumbled. ‘Because you’re in Pyongyang,’ my friend said.”

We are happy to step outside into the smoggy streets after dinner. It is interesting to be in Pyongyang for one night, but we prefer to be in Beijing.

author me

By Manya Koetse

Pyongyang Restaurant
78 Maizidian St, Chaoyang, Beijing
朝阳区麦子店街华康宾馆1层

References

Duncan, Simon. 2014. “North Korean Government-operated restaurants in Southeast Asia.” Second International Conference on Asian Studies, 75-77. Sri Lanka: International Center for Research and Development.

Images: Except for the two images of the waitresses at work (Weibo, BBC) all pictures are the author’s own.

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

[showad block=1]

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

Continue Reading
4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Olivier bourgault

    August 8, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    Um… your wrong. Please fact check before you write some more bs. There’s no such thing as north korean restaurants in south Korea. Why would north korean government send their citizens their when many defect and seek refuge in this country. Plus what the hell is south Korea thinking if they let pyongyang restaurants do business in their country. Makes no sense. Thirdly if you can’t find a better korean restaurant than that in Beijing you suck.

    • Manya Koetse

      Manya Koetse

      August 8, 2016 at 7:24 pm

      Dear Olivier, thank you for your comment. We always fact-check and refer to our sources. You are not right in saying that there are no North Korean restaurants in South Korea (http://smileyjkl.blogspot.nl/2012/11/north-korean-restaurant-in-seoul.html – you might want to fact-check before writing 😉 ). You are, however, right in pointing out that they are probably not the same as that in Beijing and other cities. Thanks for this – we’ve adjusted it. Thirdly, nowhere did we write that there were no better Korean restaurants in Beijing than this particular one. You might want to check out other blogs if you were looking for restaurants recommendations. Regards, Manya (What’s on Weibo editor)

      • Avatar

        Olivier bourgault

        August 9, 2016 at 5:42 am

        Oops. I meant no such thing as state owned pyongyang restaurants in south Korea. 🙂 😛

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

China and Covid19

From Peaches to Pears: 3 Natural Food Remedies Trending on Chinese Social Media in Times of Covid Outbreak

Even though experts suggest that natural food remedies won’t prevent or cure Covid, Chinese netizens believe in the power of peaches.

Zilan Qian

Published

on

Coughing, fever, sore throat; during China’s current Covid outbreak, the ways to alleviate the most common symptoms have become an everyday topic on Chinese social media. Food remedies are a recurring trending topic. Here are three natural food remedies that have become popular (again) over the past few weeks.

In December of 2022, during the rapid spread of Covid-19 across China after the country let go of its ‘zero Covid’ policy, fever and cough medicine were selling out fast. Some Covid patients turned to foods and drinks to help soothe Covid symptoms.

The following types of food have become especially popular on Chinese social media over the past few weeks.

 

1. Canned Yellow Peaches (黄桃罐头)

In December, when the number of Covid-19 infections spiked throughout China, canned yellow peaches suddenly received significant attention. Under the Weibo hashtag “Canned Yellow Peaches, the Mysterious Power from the East” (#东方神秘力量黄桃罐头#), netizens shared how canned yellow peaches helped them recover from Covid-19, describing it as “the god of children from Northeastern China” that “blessed every Northeastern Chinese child.” Some even joked that the government should include canned yellow peaches in the public health insurance package.

Netizens praising the effect of canned yellow peaches in alleviating diseases. Image from a post on Zhihu.

Although many state media quoted experts’ claims that canned yellow peaches cannot fight Covid-19 symptoms and might even worsen coughing, most netizens still believe in the power of peaches.

While most people acknowledge that natural food remedies aren’t always effective, they are seemingly unanimously against the “experts’ advice.” Under Pengpai News’ Weibo post and hashtag “Experts Claim Canned Yellow Peaches Might Worsen Cough” (#专家称黄桃罐头或加重咳嗽#),” some Weibo users commented that experts would not dare to discuss the supposed ineffectiveness of Lianhuaqingwen (traditional Chinese medicine that has become hot-selling during Covid outbreak) and thus criticize canned peaches instead.

Another commenter wrote: “Who would actually believe that canned yellow peaches can cure diseases? It is just like a placebo when we’re sick.”

A satirical comparison of the effects between canned yellow peaches and Lianhuaqingwen.

One popular image compared the effectiveness of canned yellow peaches and Lianhuaqingwen. According to the image, the former is tasty and hydrates, while also containing electrolytes and calories and serving as comfort food to people, whereas the latter is only capable of potentially having side effects for the kidney and liver.

Canned yellow peaches are a nostalgic comfort food, especially for people from Northeastern China. For the generations growing up during the 1970s and 1980s, canned yellow peaches are known as a ‘cure-all.’ In an era of food scarcity, canned yellow peaches were a sweet luxury that most children could only get when they were ill.

One commenter on Q&A platform Zhihu wrote: “Eating canned yellow peaches is a ritual.” Other netizens shared their childhood memories about the food – one commenter recalled how eating canned yellow peaches at the hospital after a car accident left a deep impression on them.

A Weibo post sharing ‘yellow peaches’ childhood memories. The user wrote about parents bringing canned yellow peaches as a gift for relatives who were ill: “At that time, we associated cans (of yellow peaches) with being sick.” (Originally from a Zhihu post.)

A supermarket sale of canned yellow peaches. The Chinese characters say “táoguò yìqíng,” actually meaning “escaping the pandemic,” but as a word joke, táo is written with character 桃 for peaches instead of 逃 for escape. Image from a Zhihu post.

Moreover, the name of the food has also come to be associated with recovering from Covid. As the character ‘桃’ (peach) sounds the same as the character ‘逃’ (escape), eating canned yellow peaches is also jokingly used in the context of ‘escaping’ from the epidemic.

 

2. Steamed Orange with Salt (盐蒸橙子)

Another food that gained popularity during the Covid-19 outbreak is steamed orange with salt, which is considered a more medicinal food remedy than canned yellow peaches. The food has since long been used as a Chinese folk prescription for sore throat. The widespread Covid-19 symptom of severe sore throat, sometimes also described as “swallowing blades” (喉咙吞刀片),” has made the folk prescription popular again.

Here is the cooking procedure according to many online posts: wash and soak the orange in salted water; cut the orange at ⅕ point from the top; spread ⅓ spoon of salt onto the remaining ⅘ oranges; put two parts of the orange together and steam (steaming time varies between posts from 20 min up to two hours); eat the orange with the peel and the rest of the water.

Contrary to canned yellow peaches, experts have acknowledged the benefits of eating salt-steamed oranges. According to a post released by Youth Hunan (青年湖南), the official Weibo account of the Communist Youth League of Hunan Province, some ‘experts’ state that the peel of salt-steamed oranges help alleviate discomforts in the throat, and the vitamin C can prevent and alleviate viral infections. In reports by other mainstream media, such as CCTV News, it is also claimed that salt-steamed oranges might be helpful, and that the salt can make the natural sugar taste sweeter.

However, steamed oranges with salt are not as beloved among the public as canned yellow peaches. People’s comments on the effectiveness of salty steamed oranges vary. Some share that they stopped coughing after eating them, while others criticize it as having “no use at all,” or even exacerbating the pain.

Despite the disagreement on its effectiveness, most Weibo posts agree that steamed oranges with salt are just “not tasty” at all. Contrary to the CCTV report that suggested that salt brings out the sweetness of oranges, many describe the food as extremely bitter and sour to the extent of “crying while eating.”

In online discussions about steamed oranges with salt, the distrust in expert opinions surfaced again. Although experts claim that the food is beneficial and alleviates symptoms, some netizens seem annoyed that it does not do anything for them at all: “I’ve been eating this for three days, not a damn change and it tastes disgusting.”

 

3. Stewed Pear with Rock Sugar (冰糖炖梨)

Besides canned yellow peaches and salty steamed oranges, many other kinds of food and folk prescriptions have also become trends during the Covid-19 outbreak. There’s salt-steamed lemons (盐蒸柠檬), boiled scallion water (葱白煮水), roasted oranges (烤橘子), white radish soup (萝卜汤), honeysuckle chrysanthemum tea (金銀花菊花茶) or brown sugar ginger tea (红糖姜茶), which is also commonly used to alleviate menstrual pain.

Among them, you’ll also find stewed pear with rock sugar (冰糖炖梨), which is commonly eaten to alleviate symptoms like sore throat and coughing as well reducing excessive phlegm. Many netizens indicate that it is something their parents made for them, and that it is sweet, warm, and comforting.

Recipes vary, but the pears, generally yellow pears (雪梨), can be either cooked or boiled and its core is then removed and filled with rock sugar as well as other optional ingredients, such as Chinese dates, dried Goji berries, or Sichuan peppers (see a recipe here).

Despite many people expressing their love for stewed pear with rock sugar, a recent article by the Taiwanese ‘Health 2.0’ site claimed that the food remedy is somewhat outdated as other ingredients are supposedly more effective against a persistent cough, such as daikon (combined with honey, rock sugar), which is also used as a home remedy for its antibacterial properties.

The advantages of many foods and folk prescriptions are still up for debate. However, recent related online discussions show that the comfort or even the placebo effect of certain food remedies are very important in the Covid-19 experience of many Chinese people. Some are 100% sure they work.

“One bite and it instantly made me feel better,” one commenter wrote about their homemade stewed pear. Some people admit they do not necessarily even mind if it really alleviates their symptoms or not: “It’s just so tasty!”

By Zilan Qian
with contributions by Manya Koetse

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get unlimited access to all of our articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Continue Reading

China Brands & Marketing

The Price is Not Right: Corn Controversy Takes over Chinese Social Media

It’s corn! The “6 yuan corn” debate just keeps going.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

Recently there have been fierce discussions on Chinese social media about the price of corn after e-commerce platform Oriental Selection (东方甄选) started selling ears of corn for 6 yuan ($0.80) per piece.

The controversy caught the public’s attention when the famous Kuaishou livestreamer Simba (辛巴, real name Xin Youzhi), who has labeled himself as a ‘farmer’s son,’ criticized Oriental Selection for their corn prices.

Founded in 2021, Oriental Selection is an agricultural products e-commerce platform under New Oriental Online. In its company mission statement, Oriental Selection says its intention is to “help farmers” by providing the channels to sell their high-quality agricultural goods to online consumers.

Simba suggested that Oriental Selection was being deceitful by promising to help farmers while selling their corn for a relatively high price. According to Simba, they were just scamming ordinary people by selling an ear of corn that is worth 0.70 yuan ($0.10) for 6 yuan ($0.80), and also not really helping the farmers while taking 40% of their profits.

‘Sales king’ Xin Youzhi, aka Simba, was the one who started the current corn controversy.

During one of the following livestreams, Oriental Selection’s host Dong Yuhui (董宇辉) – who also happens to be a farmer’s son – responded to the remarks and said there was a valid reason for their corn to be priced “on the high side.” Simba was talking about corn in general, including the kind being fed to animals, while this is high-quality corn that is already worth 2 yuan ($0.30) the moment it is harvested.

Despite the explanation, the issue only triggered more discussions on the right price for corn and about the fuzzy structure of the agricultural e-commerce livestreaming business.

Is it really too expensive to sell corn for 6 yuan via livestreaming?

The corn supplier, the Chinese ‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂), is actually selling their own product for 3.6 yuan ($0.50) – is that an honest price? What amount of that price actually goes to the farmers themselves?

‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂).

One person responding to this issue via her Tiktok channel is the young farmer Liu Meina (刘美娜), who explained that Simba’s suggested “0.70 yuan per corn” was simply unrealistic, saying since it does not take the entire production process into account, including maintenance, packaging, transportation, and delivery.

Another factor mentioned by netizens is the entertainment value added to e-commerce by livestreaming channels. Earlier this year, Oriental Selection’s host Dong Yuhui and his colleagues became an online hit for adding an educational component to their livestreaming sessions.

These hosts were actually previously teachers at New Oriental. Facing a crackdown on China’s after-school tutoring, the company ventured into different business industries and let these former teachers go online to sell anything from peaches to shrimp via livestreaming, teaching some English while doing so (read more here). So this additional value of livestream hosts entertaining and educating their viewers should also be taken into account when debating the price of corn. Some call it “Dong Yuhui Premium” (“董宇辉溢价”).

Dong Yuhui (董宇辉) is one of the livestreamers that have turned New Oriental’s e-commerce into a viral hit.

In light of all the online discussions and controversy, netizens discovered that Oriental Selection is currently no longer selling corn (#东方甄选回应下架玉米#), which also became a trending topic on Weibo on September 29.

But the corn controversy does not end here. On September 28, Chinese netizens discovered that corn by the ‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂) was being sold for no less than 8.5 yuan ($1.2) at the Pangdonglai supermarket chain (胖东来), going well beyond the price of Oriental Selection.

Trying to avoid a marketing crisis, the Pangdonglai chain quickly recalled its corn, stating there had been an issue with the supply price that led to its final store price becoming too high. That topic received over 160 million views on Weibo on Friday (#胖东来召回8.5元玉米#).

Behind all these online discussions are consumer frustrations about an untransparent market where the field of agricultural products has become more crowded and with more people taking a share, including retailers, e-commerce platforms, and livestreaming apps. Moreover, they often say they are “helping farmers” while they are actually just making money themselves.

One Weibo user commented: “Currently, ‘helping farmers’ is completely different from the original intention of ‘helping farmers.’ Right now, it’s not about helping farmers anymore, but about helping the companies who have made agricultural products their business.”

“I bought a corn at a street shop today for 4 yuan ($0.55),” one Weibo blogger wrote: “It was big, sweet, and juicy, the quality was good and it was tasty – and people are still making money off of it. So yes, 6 yuan for a corn is certainly too expensive.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Continue Reading

Popular Reads