Seoul restaurants offer rare taste of North Korean food

UNTV News   •   December 4, 2019   •   767

The facade of Pyongyang Suljib (Pyongyang Tavern), in the neighborhood of Hongdae, with colorful posters that mimic the propaganda of the North Korean regime, in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 16, 2019 (issued Dec 4, 2019). EFE/Andrés Sánchez Braun

SEOUL — Two restaurants in the neighborhood of Hongdae in Seoul are offering South Korean diners a chance to sample the flavors of their neighbor to the north in an experience that used to be rare, but which, thanks to improving diplomatic relations, is becoming increasingly popular.

Southerners can sample the flavors and atmosphere of an eatery in North Korea, officially still an enemy state of the South since the Korean War that ended with a ceasefire in 1953, although no formal truce was ever signed.

Warmer relations since a diplomatic thaw last year has changed how Seoulites view Pyongyang, a factor which has been instrumental in opening these eateries, the owners say.

Unlike most North Korean restaurants, which are run by defectors and their descendants and are quite modest and traditional, both eateries are operated by South Koreans.

“There’s no place like this in Seoul,” the owner of Pyongyang Suljib in the heart of Hongdae, told EFE.

Customers are greeted with huge posters imitating the propaganda of the Pyongyang regime and songs from the North, such as the ubiquitous “Bangapseumnida” (“Nice to meet you”).

Slogans like “Let’s put together a great harvest of empty bottles” provide a comic turn to the traditional motivational phrases used in the North; some even go a step further, such as the one bearing the message, “Those who are caught smoking on the premises will be executed by firing squad.”

As well as sampling Northern specialties such as naengmyeon — Pyongyang-style fried noodles — the eatery mimics one from North Korea down to the finest details to complete an exotic and entertaining experience for its mostly young crowd.

The attention to detail can be seen in beer bottles sporting labels that copy Taedongang — the most famous North Korean beer, which is banned in the South — to furniture acquired in Dandong, a border town in China where many North Koreans sell their wares.

But the venture has attracted its share of controversies, according to the owner, who wished to remain anonymous after backlash from conservative South Koreans.

After the restaurant’s opening was announced in October, a group of nationalists protested outside the premises and complained to the police that it praised the North Korea regime, an activity banned under the National Security Act.

At another establishment, Chin-Chin — a restaurant that opened this summer in Yeonnam district, chef Lee Jin-ho has spent months perfecting a menu that covers the best of North Korean fare.

Lee features classics such as handmade Pyongyang sundae, a blood sausage similar to black pudding, and dwaeji gukbap — pork soup with rice — offering tastes which locals won’t have ever had a chance to sample first-hand, as traveling to the North is banned.

“We used to have the same kind of dishes but they developed their own food culture the last 70 years. There’s also a lot of different (regional) renditions that we South Koreans haven’t tried,” he said.

Lee highlights the Chinese influence on Northern recipes as one of the main differences, which has led to the use of ingredients such as spring onion and doubanjiang — a spicy sauce made of fermented beans — that are not part of Southern cuisine.

The food shortages in North Korea also contributed hugely to the differences in the two cuisines. Injo gogi bap, a synthetic meat, was invented as a protein supplement to offset the scarcity of meat by using a thin layer of the residue left from soybean oil production, wrapped around rice and eaten with a spicy sauce. Lee added it to the menu because it is a daily staple for many North Koreans.

The chef had help with the recipes from Ahn Young-ja, who prepared official dinners served to former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, grandfather of the current leader Kim Jong-un, before defecting to the South.

Getting some of the ingredients — such as the potato flour used for a kind of Northern noodle, the import of which is banned — also proved to be a challenge.

But, judging from his clientele, which includes “a lot of defectors,” Chin-Chin seems to have cracked the code by mixing South Korean potato starch mixed with a dash of buckwheat flour. EFE-EPA

Pyongyang disinfects the city after North Korea introduced tougher curbs against coronavirus

UNTV News   •   July 29, 2020

North Korea’s state-run television on Tuesday (July 28) released a video of Pyongyang workers disinfecting the city as the state introduced tougher curbs against the coronavirus, after it locked down the town Kaesong, on the border with the South, to tackle what could be its first publicly confirmed infection.

Strict quarantine measures and the screening of districts were in progress and test kits, protective clothing and medical equipment were being supplied, the North’s KCNA state news agency said.

The measures come after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared an emergency on Sunday (July 26) after a person who defected to South Korea three years ago returned across the highly fortified demilitarised zone (DMZ) to Kaesong this month with symptoms of COVID-19, KCNA reported.

Reclusive North Korea had reported testing 1,211 people for the virus as of July 16 with all returning negative results, the World Health Organisation said in a statement sent to Reuters. The report said 696 nationals were under quarantine. (Reuters)

(Production: Minwoo Park)

North Korea’s Kim says there will be no more war thanks to nuclear weapons

UNTV News   •   July 28, 2020

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said there will be no more war as the country’s nuclear weapons guarantee its safety and future despite unabated outside pressure and military threats, state media reported on Tuesday (July 28).

Kim made the remarks as he celebrated the 67th anniversary of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, which fell on July 27, with a reception for veterans, the North’s state-run television KRT said.

The country developed nuclear weapons to win “absolute strength” to stave off another armed conflict, Kim said in a speech carried by state media, emphasizing the defensive nature of the programs.

The speech came amid stalled talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs in exchange for sanctions relief from Washington.

Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump met for the first time in 2018 in Singapore, raising hopes for a negotiated end to North Korea’s nuclear threats. But their second summit, in 2019 in Vietnam, and subsequent working-level meetings fell apart. (Reuters)

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U.S. envoy Biegun meets Seoul’s top security adviser to discuss North Korea

UNTV News   •   July 9, 2020

United States Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun held a meeting with South Korea’s top security adviser on Thursday (July 9) before heading off to Japan in a trip overshadowed by stalled denuclearisation talks with North Korea.

According to Seoul’s presidential office, Biegun met with Suh Hoon, a former spy chief, and discussed the North’s recent movement and ways to foster peace on the Korean peninsula. Suh said he “highly appreciated” the U.S. envoy’s efforts to resume talks with North Korea.

North Korea has said it has no intention of sitting down again with the United States, though U.S. President Donald Trump said this week he would be open to another summit with leader Kim Jong Un. (Reuters)

(Production: Minwoo Park)

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