Pyongyang Okryu is a global restaurant chain run by the North Korean government. Named after the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, there are over a hundred branches of this restaurant all over the world. However, most are in Asia. My boyfriend and I were visiting Bangkok, Thailand in December and happened to come across one of these rare North Korean restaurants. 

Pyongyang's waitresses are North Korean, and supposedly chosen for their language skills and physical appearances. Little is known about the lives of Pyongyang's staff when they're off work, but there was a case of 12 waitresses leaving their jobs and defecting to South Korea a few years back. 

The Food

Tessa Domzalski

I'm a big fan of South Korean food and saw many dishes on Pyongyang Okryu's menu that I'd seen time and time again at other restaurants. This included stove-top barbecue, fried fish and a variety of fish and rice dishes. We wound up ordering the bibimbap, a side of BBQ meat and sundae (no, not the ice cream). Oh, and a bottle of very strong North Korean rice wine.

Tessa Domzalski

Found in both North and South Korea, sundae is a sausage made of pigs blood, rice, meat and vegetables. I've had black pudding (and other "weird" foods) before so this didn't make me squeamish. Compared to South Korea's sundae (which uses rice noodles) I found this dish dry, mealy, and all-around bland. 

Tessa Domzalski

Blandness was a problem with all of our dishes as a matter o' fact. Compared to normal KBBQ (which I adore) the meat was flavorless and required lots and lots of sauce to get it down. Speaking of sauce... North Korea's gochujang (a fermented chili sauce that is sweet, salty, spicy and deliciously funky) is much sweeter than their southern counterpart's. The same could be said about their kimchi, which had hardly any spice.

These two countries may have the same dishes, but they're the same in name alone.

The Service

The three waitresses on duty were dressed in color coordinated outfits from head to toe. One wore red, the other blue and the last a bright lime green. While the waitresses were very polite (and their English skills admirable) it was hard not to notice their sullen faces as they stood at the back of the restaurant. We attempted to make small talk with our waitress but she barely cracked a smile.

The Atmosphere

Tessa Domzalski

Cheery music played on the sound system but the restaurant was still eerily quiet and tense. The three waitresses didn't speak unless spoken to, even to each other. My boyfriend and I found it difficult to chat comfortably as it felt like everyone was listening to what we were saying. Pyongyang Okryu definitely isn't the place to take a date.

Even though signs on the walls mentioned photos and video were not permitted I tested my luck anyway, snapping photos every time a waitress wasn't looking. They either didn't notice or the "rule" wasn't as strict as it seemed. 

All in all

While I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit this North Korean restaurant it was definitely for the experience alone, which was a tense (and bland) one. I won't deny that it was interesting to get a peek into a culture I'll probably never see firsthand but it's not the type of place I'd visit repeatedly. 

Would you go to a North Korean restaurant?