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.

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. 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. 🙂 😛

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

China Food & Drinks

Would You Like Coffee with Your Sneakers? Chinese Sports Brand Li-Ning Registers Its ‘Ning Coffee’ Brand

Li-Ning enters the coffee market: “Will they sell sneaker-flavored coffee?”

Published

on

An unexpected competitor is joining China’s coffee market. With over 7000 stores in the country, Li-Ning has the potential to become the biggest athletic coffee chain yet.

Another player is joining mainland China’s growing coffee market. It’s not an American coffee giant, nor a coffee house chain from Hong Kong – it is China’s leading sportswear brand Li-Ning Sports (李宁体育).

Li-Ning registered its coffee brand under the ‘NING COFFEE’ trademark. As reported in an article written by ‘Investment Group’ (@投资界) and published by Toutiao News (@头条新闻), Li-Ning has confirmed on May 6 that it will provide in-store coffee services to enhance customers’ shopping experiences in the near future.

The move means that Li-Ning could potentially become a big player in China’s coffee market, competing with major brands such as Starbucks, Luckin Coffee, Costa and Pacific. If the in-store coffee cafes would roll out in most of its shops, there could be over 7000 Ning Coffee cafes in China in the future. By the end of 2021, Li-Ning Sports had a total of 7,137 stores in China.

Starbucks has 5,400 stores in China. Leading domestic coffee chain Luckin Coffee expanded to over 6000 stores last year. Costa Coffee, although closing some of its China stores in 2021, announced that it aims to have a total of 1,200 stores open in China later this year. Looking at Li-Ning’s presence across China, its in-store coffee cafes could be serious competition for the leading coffee chains in the country.

Over the past few years, various Chinese sportswear brands, including Anta Sports and Erke, have seen a rise in popularity, but Li-Ning is still China’s most famous brand name for athletic apparel and shoes. The company was founded in the early 1990s by Chinese Olympic gymnast and business entrepreneur Li Ning (1963) and was generally seen as a Nike copycat – the original logo was even similar to the Nike swoosh. Although Li-Ning looked like Nike, the brand is more appealing to many Chinese consumers due to the fact that it is cheaper and made in China.

Li-Ning markets itself as being “deeply and uniquely Chinese” (Li Ning official website 2022), which has made it more popular in an era of “proudly made in China” (read more about that here). Moreover, it also promises to offer high-quality sportwear at a price that is cheaper than the American Nike or German Adidas.

Li-Ning’s success is also owed to its marketing strategies. Besides being the official marketing partner of many major sports events, including the NBA in China, the brand has also contracted with many household athletes and famous global ambassadors.

Over a decade ago, marketing observers already noted that despite the remarkable success of Li-Ning in China, the brand still had a long way to go in order to strengthen its image as a long-term brand, recommending Li-Ning to “create excitement around the brand” by building more associations related to lifestyle and coolness to better resonate with younger Chinese customers (Bell 2008, 81; Roll 2006, 170).

With its latest move into the coffee market, it is clear that Li-Ning is moving its brand positioning more toward the direction of lifestyle, trendiness, and luxury. Although purchasing a coffee at Starbucks or Luckin is part of the everyday routine for many urban millennials, coffee is still viewed as a trendy luxury product for many, relating to both cultural factors as well as economic reasons. As noted by Cat Hanson in 2015, the price of a single cup of coffee was equal to a month’s worth of home broadband internet (read more).

Previously, other fashion brands have also opened up coffee stores in China. As reported by Jing Daily, international luxury brands Prada, Louis Vuitton, and FENDI also opened up coffee cafes in mainland China.

Another unexpected coffee cafe is that of China Post, which opened its first in-store ‘Post Coffee’ in Xiamen earlier this year. On social media, many netizens commented that the brand image of the national post service clashed with that of a fairly expensive coffee house (coffee prices starting at 22 yuan / $3,3).

“The postal services are located in cities and in the countryside and are often used by migrant workers, and generally this demographic isn’t buying coffee,” one person commented, with another netizen writing: “This does not suit the taste of ordinary people, it would’ve been better if they sold milk tea.”

Post Coffee, via Jiemian Official.

On Weibo, Li-Ning’s journey into the competitive coffee market was discussed using the hashtags “Li-Ning Enters the Coffee Race” (#李宁入局咖啡赛道#) and “Li-Ning Starts Selling Coffee” (##李宁开始卖咖啡##).

Like with China Post, many commenters say the combination of sportswear and coffee is not something they immediately find logical. “Will they also sell sneaker-flavored coffee?” one person wondered, with others thinking selling coffee – seen as a product from western countries – does not exactly match with Li-Ning as a ‘proudly made-in-China’ brand.

“How would you feel about trying on some clothes at Li-Ning while sipping on Li-Ning coffee? I understand Li-Ning is jumping on what’s popular, and this time it’s coffee,” one Weibo user writes, with others also writing: “I think it has potential.”

“I’m willing to try it out,” various commenters write. For others, they want to see the menu first: “It all depends on the price.”

For more about the coffee and tea market in China, check our other articles here.

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:

References

Bell, Sandra. 2008. International Brand Management of Chinese Companies. Heidelberg: Physia-Verlag.

Roll, Martin. 2006. Asian Brand Strategy: How Asia Builds Strong Brands. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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

China and Covid19

Weibo Has Still Blocked ‘Shanghai Buy Groceries’ Hashtag

“It’s easier to get a Shanghai license plate than groceries around here.”

Published

on

While Shanghai is promising to improve food supplies for locked-down residents, many households are still struggling to get their groceries and complain about high prices for basic food items. Over the past week, Weibo has blocked a hashtag page about the issue.

On April 8, during the seventh day of Shanghai’s phased citywide lockdown, the Chinese social media platform Weibo removed the ‘Shanghai Buy Food’ or ‘Shanghai Groceries’ (#上海买菜#) hashtag while many in the city were facing difficulties in getting food delivered to their house and were venting their anger online. Getting daily necessities has become a problem for millions of residents not allowed to leave their homes due to the city’s coronavirus prevention measures.

The hashtag censorship coincided with state media news reports about Shanghai ensuring life supplies for residents and improving delivery capacities at a time when most stores, restaurants, supermarkets, and wet markets have shut down normal operations. Shanghai has registered over 253,000 Covid-19 infections since March 1st of this year, reporting another daily record of 26,330 confirmed cases on Wednesday.

Some joked that just censoring the problem was also a way of dealing with it. “Oh great, they solved the grocery shopping problem,” popped up as a recurring joke on Weibo after the hashtag page was removed.

The hashtag ‘Shanghai Buy Groceries’ first started trending on Chinese social media on March 23, when Shanghai residents started worrying about an impending lockdown amid spiking Covid19 cases.

Although Chinese state media reported on March 24 that Shanghai health authorities reiterated they had no plans to impose a citywide lockdown – and two people accused of spreading rumors about an alleged citywide lockdown were even placed under police investigation -, the city announced its phased lockdowns three days later and scenes of panic buying at local supermarkets ensued.

But around April 8, the moment when the hashtag’s popularity surged, many residents faced food shortages as their home supplies ran out and grocery orders did not come through. While some residents started receiving food boxes issued by the local government, most compounds and buildings also set up their own community WeChat group to place bulk orders at certain food vendors which then deliver the group purchase to the community, where it is distributed by volunteers or property management employees.

Earlier this week, Shanghai implemented a new measure that divides residential units into three risk categories depending on whether or not there have been any cases of Covid in their communities for a stretch of two weeks. For at least 15 million residents, their locked-down status remains unchanged – and for those in the ‘precautionary’ communities, their status could also be downgraded to the ‘locked down’ level the moment a positive case pops up again.

E-commerce and food delivery platforms such as Ele.me and JD have been sending more staff to Shanghai from other parts of China to help ensure quicker and smoother sorting and delivery processes. On April 13, many households also received their first (free) food boxes.

By Wednesday, hashtags such as “Shanghai Residents Are One by One Receiving Supplies” (#上海市民陆续收到物资#) and “Delivery Drivers Increased to Help Shanghai” (#多地快递小哥增援上海#) were circulating on social media. But on Weibo, the hashtag page for “Shanghai Groceries” still comes up with no results.

For some Shanghai residents, the pace of food delivery, even with improved delivery logistics, hasn’t been quick enough to alleviate their current food shortages. Others are also complaining about the costs of their ordered groceries, some spending 285 yuan ($45) or more on some basic groceries including noodles and vegetables.

One Weibo user asks: “Please, where can I buy reasonably priced meat, eggs, and green onions?”

“It’s easier to get a Shanghai license plate than groceries around here,” another netizen complained.

For some, doing online groceries has become an Olympic game; netizens are posting videos of setting a 5AM alarm clock, jumping out of bed, and entering their online orders as fast as they can. One video showed a wife cheering on her husband while his thumb was going as fast as possible to place grocery orders via his smartphone e e-commerce app.

“If I have to keep grabbing groceries like this, I’m gonna have a nervous breakdown,” one thirty-something lady from Shanghai wrote on Weibo: “I really hope the situation in Shanghai gets better soon. What happened to the city I grew up in?”

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

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
Advertisement
Advertisement

Facebook

Contribute

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

Become a member

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.    

Support What’s on Weibo

What's on Weibo is 100% independent. Will you support us? Your support means we can remain independent and keep reporting on the latest China trends. Every contribution, however big or small, powers our website. Support us from as little as $1 here.

Popular Reads