Friday, September 17, 2010

Eating North Korean in Cambodia

Anyone who has had to stomach my presence for more than a few hours doubtlessly knows about my interest in the politics of the Korean peninsula and North Korean specifically. I've ruled out going to the mass games (check the video) for political reasons but have been happy to discover that I can explore North Korea in Phnom Penh.

Due to Cambodia's habit of embracing the most corrupt world leaders, they have a long and close relationship with North Korea. We've got an embassy here,there are diplomatic missions, they sell North Korean kimchi at the grocery store and perhaps most importantly, I've got a window into North Korean cuisine.

I had long speculated that North Korean food was the more pure version of Korean food--what Korean cuisine was before it was tainted by imperialism, capitalism and mayonnaise.

The menu at Pyongyang Restaurant

I had the opportunity to find out when I visited Pyongyang Restaurant in Phnom Penh recently. The restaurant is allegedly run by the North Korean government as a place to launder money and funnel cash to the DPRK. The waitresses are all North Korean citizens as well. They're good-looking, play traditional Korean instruments and are dedicated to the cause.

Unfortunately there are no photos allowed in the place, so I didn't get any pictures of the food or floor show, but here's what I learned. North Korean food is not as spicy as south Korean food and there's much more focus on noodle dishes. There were a few banchan, but far less than any self-respecting South Korean joint would serve. The dishes were not nearly as complex or interesting as the Korean food I am used to. I'd use the word "rustic" to describe it. Everything was cut roughly and the bulgogi which is usually cut very thin was thick and tough. It was sort of like what your (Korean) grandma would make once she stopped giving a damn.

However, the floor show of six North Korean women singing, dancing and playing traditional instruments as well as the excellent decor highlighted by the bright fluorescent lighting made the experience of contributing ten bucks to the axis of evil well worth it.

Pyongyang Restaurant
400 Monivong Blvd(between Mao Tse Tung and Street 392)
Phnom Penh, Cambodia