I’ll be honest. I’m a bit uneasy about writing this post. I’ve been educated in a strictly anti-North Korean environment, and when the education is like that, the real life implications can be real – visible or not. I’m not joking – in the previous
ten nine years of the more conservative government, the South Korean government routinely “warned” their citizens to avoid going to these North Korean Restaurants. Maybe things might change with the new president.
As I half joked about this with my fellow colleagues, of course, they had a equally hilarious response – “Blame the Chinese! Wonhee, you didn’t do anything wrong, it was all your Chinese colleagues who brought you there.” Joke aside, it was a casual meeting with the faculty members here at NYU Shanghai.
I won’t really comment on the operation on the restaurant itself (the WP article did a nice job on this) but I’ll comment on the food.
All of the names of the food sounded familiar – the naming of the cuisine between the North and South are mostly same. I ordered a cold noodle dish (평양 냉면 平壤冷麵) set. I’m quite a huge cold noodle dish fan (like most Koreans), and in South Korea there are a lot of North Korean style cold noodle place (“평양냉면집”), but compared to what I ate here, they definitely taste, well, different. And the same applies to the Kimchi, the side dishes, and even the tiny side dish of meet (was it beef or pork? anyway it was one of the most hardened pieces of meet I’ve eaten recently).
And yes, “different” is euphemism for another word if is wasn’t clear by now.
Anyways, the forced smiles of the all female staff and servers (who also become performers at night, apparently) was unpleasant. They were trained to speak all the Chinese they needed to do their job here, and honestly I wasn’t sure that the staff were Korean until I was asked (by one of our staff) to check the receipt and see if there were any discrepancies, mostly out of due diligence. The check was all written in Korean 냉면** 토장국 ** 비밤밥 ** and etc. The TVs in the restaurant were playing some sort of (assumably) North Korean propaganda shows / music with captions. The experience itself was new and bizarre, as it was the first time that I’ve seen North Korean visual materials – yes, they are forbidden in South Korea, or course.
A few more photos, below.