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 editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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 Food & Drinks

Famous Goubuli Restaurant Calls Police for Getting Roasted Online, Gets Kicked Out of Franchise Group

Goubuli Wangfujing shows how NOT to address a social media crisis.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

The well-known Goubuli Wangfujing restaurant just got a bit more famous this week. The branch, which specializes in steamed buns, is now not just known as one of Beijing’s worst-rated restaurants, but also as a business that shot itself in the foot by handling a social media crisis the wrong way.

The famous Wangfujing main branch of Goubuli Steamed Buns (狗不理包子) is caught up in a social media storm since responding to a blogger’s negative video of their restaurant by contacting the police.

The video, Goubuli’s response to it, and the following consequences have hit the top trending topic lists on Weibo today.

Goubuli, sometimes transcribed as Go Believe, is a well-known franchise brand of steamed stuffed buns (baozi) from Tianjin that was founded in 1858. The brand now has more than 80 restaurants in mainland China, 12 of them in Beijing. Since Wangfujing is one of Beijing’s most famous streets, the Wangfujing branch is popular with both foreign and Chinese visitors.

 

Gu Yue’s “Visiting the Worst-Rated Restaurant” Video

 

The social media storm started on September 8, when Weibo blogger Gu Yue (谷岳) posted a video titled “Visiting the Worst-Rated Restaurant” (“探访评分最差餐厅”). Gu Yue is a travel blogger with over 1,7 million fans on Weibo.

Gu Yue in front of Gubouli.

In the video, Gu Yue starts by explaining he chose to visit Gubouli after searching for the restaurant that receives the lowest ratings in the Beijing Wangfujing and Dongdan areas on the super-popular Chinese mobile food app Dianping.

The blogger found that, out of the 1299 listed restaurants in the area, Wangfujing Goubuli Baozi was the worst-rated place. Ironically, the brand’s name Gǒubùlǐ (狗不理) literally means ‘dogs don’t pay attention,’ which makes the name ‘Goubuli Baozi’ sound like a place with stuffed buns that even dogs would not eat.

Complaining about the service, prices, and quality of food, many Dianping users rated the restaurant with just one out of five stars.

Gu Yue then sets out to visit the restaurant himself to see if Gubouli on Wangfujing really is as bad as Dianping users say. He orders some steamed braised pork dumplings, 60 yuan ($8.7) for 8, and regular pork dumplings, 38 yuan ($5.5) for 8.

The blogger concludes that Gubouli’s dumplings are not worth the money: the dumplings are greasy, the dough is too sticky, and they do not have enough filling. Gu Yue’s video also suggests that the restaurant’s hygienic standards are not up to par, with loud coughing coming from the kitchen.

Gu Yue’s video received over 97,000 likes and thousands of responses on Weibo, with many fans praising the idea of the blogger checking out the worst-rated restaurants.

 

Goubuli’s Reaction Starts a Social Media Storm

 

The Wangfujing branch of Goubuli did not appreciate Gu Yue’s video.

In an online statement on September 11, the branch accused the blogger of spreading lies about their restaurant and harming their reputation, and demanded a public apology.

Goubuli Wangfujing called the video “vicious slander” and stated they had contacted the police in relation to the matter.

The hashtag “Wangfujing Goubuli Responds to Netizen’s Negative Video” (#王府井狗不理回应网友差评视频#) immediately went viral on Weibo, attracting some 430 million views.

Many Weibo users were outraged about the way the Goubuli branch handled the situation. “Aren’t we even allowed to say if something is tasty or not?!” many commenters wondered, with others writing: “You are harming your own reputation!”

“Let’s call the police over the quality of your food,” others suggested.

There were also many netizens who commented that some Chinese Time-Honored brands, such as Goubuli, often only survive because of their history and fame rather than actually delivering good quality to their customers.

Following the major online backlash on its statement, the restaurant soon removed their post again. But the social media storm did not end there.

On September 15, the Goubuli Group issued a statement saying that it would directly terminate its franchise cooperation with the Goubuli Wangfujing branch over the incident.

With over 280 million views on its hashtag page (#狗不理解除与王府井店加盟方合作#), news of the franchise termination blew up on Weibo.

According to the latest Weibo reports on September 15, the Wangfujing Goubuli branch was closed for business on Tuesday (#狗不理包子王府井店门店关闭#).

“This is the power of clout,” one person comments: “If it were not for the [Goubuli] restaurant’s flawed marketing department, this would not have led to their closure.”

“The restaurant has brought this on themselves. There’s nothing wrong with posting a bad review.”

Another person comments: “This is the first time I’ve seen a marketing department making something big out of something small, leading to their own closing.”

Meanwhile, blogger Gu Yue says that he was not contacted by Goubuli, nor by the police. The social media controversy has only made him more popular.

“Gue Yue single-handedly crushed this restaurant,” some say, appreciating how social media has increased the power of Chinese consumers to make or break a business.

 
Also read: Overview of the Dolce&Gabbana China Marketing Disaster Through Weibo Hashtags
 

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Continue Reading

China Food & Drinks

Tianjin Restaurant Introduces “Meal Boxes for Women”

The special lunch boxes for women were introduced after female customers had too much leftover rice.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

China’s anti food waste campaign, that was launched earlier this month, is still in full swing and noticeable on China’s social media where new iniatives to curb the problem of food loss are discussed every single day.

Today, the hashtag “Tianjin Restaurant Launches Special Female Meal Boxes” (#天津一饭店推出女版盒饭#) went trending with some 130 million views on Weibo, with many discussions on the phenomenon of gender-specific portions. The restaurant claims its special ‘female lunch boxes’ are just “more suitable for women.”

According to Tonight News Paper (今晚报), the only difference their reporter found between the “meals for women” and the regular meals, is the amount of rice served. Instead of 275 grams of rice, the ‘female edition’ of the restaurant’s meals contain 225 grams of rice.

The restaurant, located on Shuangfeng Road, decided to introduce special female lunch boxes after discovering that the female diners of the offices they serve usually leave behind much more rice than their male customers.

The restaurant now claims they expect to save approximately 10,000 kilograms of rice on an annual basis by serving their meals based on gender.

On Chinese social media, the initiative was heavily criticized. Weibo netizens wondered why the restaurant would not just offer “bigger” and “smaller” lunch boxes instead of introducing special meals based on gender.

“There are also women who like to eat more, what’s so difficult about changing your meals to ‘big’ and ‘small’ size?”, a typical comment said: “Some women eat a lot, some men don’t.”

Many people called the special meals for women sex discrimination and also wanted to know if there was a difference in price between the ‘female’ and ‘male’ lunch boxes.

There are also female commenters on Weibo who claim they can eat much more than their male colleagues. “Just give me the male version,” one female user wrote: “I’ll eat that meal instead.”

This is the second time this month that initiatives launched in relation to China’s anti food waste campaign receive online backlash.

A restaurant in Changsha triggered a storm of criticism earlier this month after placing two scales at its entrance and asking customers to to enter their measurements into an app that would then suggest menu items based on their weight. The restaurant later apologized for encouraging diners to weigh themselves.

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Support What’s on Weibo

If you enjoy What’s on Weibo and support the way we report the latest trends in China, you could consider becoming a What's on Weibo patron:
Donate

Facebook

Instagram

Advertisement

Contribute

Got any tips? Or want to become a contributor or intern at What's on Weibo? Email us as at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Popular Reads