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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Made in the DPRK: Taedonggang Beer.
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Different items from the menu.
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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.

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north korean band whatsonweibo

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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.

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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.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. 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

      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)

      • Olivier bourgault

        August 9, 2016 at 5:42 am

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

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China Food & Drinks

Adapted to the Desert: This Yurt-Style KFC Opened in Inner Mongolia

Special KFC in Inner-Mongolia: “Is home delivery done by camelback?”

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A KFC restaurant that has opened up in Ordos Prefecture, Inner-Mongolia, is attracting online attention in China for its yurt-style building.

The KFC restaurant is located in Xiangshawan, also known as Whistling Dune Bay, a tourist area – China’s first desert-themed tourism resort – in the Kubuqi Desert.

Some web users praise the fast-food giant for “following local customs” (“入乡随俗”). Others jokingly wonder if their home delivery services are also done by camelback.

Although KFC is not China’s first fast-food restaurant, it is one of the most popular ones. Nowhere else outside of the US has KFC expanded so quickly as in China. Since the first KFC opened in Beijing in 1987, the chain had an average of 50% growth per year.

With thousands of locations across the country, KFC often adapts its restaurants’ style to the local environment. On Weibo, web users share various examples of local KFCs.

A KFC sign at a Fuzhou branch, by Weibo user @渭城朝雨玉清宸.

A KFC in Shanxi province, shared by Weibo user @sheep加水饺.

KFC in Suzhou, by Weibo user @是宜不是宣呀.

KFC in Pingyao, by Weibo user @车谦渊

KFC in Orange Isle, Hunan, by Weibo user @DzDanger_

One Weibo user (@阳山花非花) points out that KFC is not the only chain to adapt to the local environment in Ordos. Chinese fast-food chain Dicos (德克士) apparently also has a special restaurant in the area.

Besides adapting its buildings, KFC is also known to be quite localized in its product offerings. KFC China offers products such as Chinese-style porridge, Beijing chicken roll, and youtiao (deep-fried strip of dough commonly eaten for breakfast).

In 2019, KFC also made headlines in China for adding, among other things, hot and spicy skewers (麻辣串串) to its menu.

For now, the KFC yurt-style location is bound to gain more visitors who are coming to check it out. Already, various Weibo users are sharing their own pics of their KFC visit.

 

You might also like to read:

 

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Food & Drinks

“There’s a Cockroach in My Hotpot” – ‘Pengci’ Tries to Scam Haidilao Restaurant

Two hotpot cockroaches in one day, but the real cockroach didn’t get away.

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A man in Shenzhen has been arrested after trying to pull a scam in Haidilao hotpot restaurants twice in one day.

The man, Mr Cai (蔡), visited two different locations of China’s Haidilao chain of hotpot restaurants within twenty-four hours, and both times he managed to ‘discover’ a cockroach in his hotpot.

Cai complained to the staff about the roach in his food. According to Sohu.com, in order to keep the peace, both Haidilao stores compensated their unhappy guest; they gave him a free meal and 1000 yuan ($156) and 800 yuan ($124) respectively.

When the restaurants later inspected their security camera footage, they suspected they had been scammed and reported the incident to the police. Further investigation of the security videos revealed that the man actually held the cockroach in his hand, behind his phone, and dropped it on the table, after which he put it in the hotpot together with the vegetables.

When the man scooped the insect out of the hotpot, he immediately called the waiter to show the cockroach in his food.

After being exposed as a ‘pengci‘ (碰瓷), a scammer focused on pretending to a victim in order to get compensation, Cai was detained by the local police.

A similar incident occurred in 2018, when a man named Guo (郭) dropped a dead rat in the hotpot at a Haidilao restaurant, and then demanded a compensation of 5 million yuan ($780,000). That incident also went viral on Chinese social media at the time.

Guo was later sentenced to three years in prison for his scam, for damaging Haidilao’s reputation, and for filing a false report with regulatory authorities.

Also in 2018, a woman claimed she had found a sanitary pad in her Haidilao hotpot. This incident later also turned out to be a scam – the woman had placed the item there herself.

Haidilao is one of China’s most famous hotpot brands, and its restaurants have been in business for over 25 years. The restaurant is known for its good service, quality, and cleanliness.

On Weibo, the Haidilao ‘cockroach incident’ is attracting a lot of attention today, with one hashtag page regarding the issue receiving over 230 million views (#男子在海底捞自导自演吃出蟑螂#).

Although scams such as these are not uncommon, many people are surprised that someone would still attempt to fraud Haidilao in this way in 2021, when there are cameras set up everywhere in the restaurant.

Haidilao’s surveillance cameras have become a topic of discussion on social media before. The restaurant’s alleged reason for putting up so many cameras is in order to take better care of their customers, to monitor employee service standards, and to rely on their security footage when personal belongings go missing. The cameras also register the entire hotpot dining process; if something comes up in the hotpot that is not supposed to be there, the cameras will have captured how it ended up there.

“In this case, it’s good that there are so many security cameras,” one commenter writes.

Many others scold Cai for trying to scam Haidilao like this: “They should really make him eat cockroaches.”

 

– By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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