Seoul restaurants offer rare taste of North Korean food

UNTV News   •   December 4, 2019   •   376

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

US flies surveillance aircraft over Korean Peninsula

UNTV News   •   December 23, 2019

An undated photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Dec.22, 2019 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) chairing the Third Enlarged Meeting of the Seventh Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang, North Korea (issued Dec.22, 2019)

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – The United States on Monday flew another surveillance aircraft over the Korean peninsula amid a possible launch of another missile by North Korea, according to an aviation tracker.

Aircraft Spots, which monitors military air movements, said on Twitter that the US Air Force flew an RC-135W aircraft over the Korean Peninsula at 31,000 feet.

The US had flown the reconnaissance aircraft over the region during the weekend to detect, identify and geolocate activities in the North Korean military installations.

The US has deployed several reconnaissance planes in the Korean peninsula since late November after the North Korean regime launched two projectiles into the Sea of Japan with a large rocket launcher on Nov. 29 and carried out two weapons tests.

The deployment of surveillance aircraft by Washington is also a response to Pyongyang’s warning on Dec.3 that it was up to the US to chose what “Christmas gift” it wanted as the deadline to resume the stalled denuclearisation talks drew closer.

Pyongyang has proposed a year-end deadline for the US to come up with a new proposal to restart the stalled nuclear talks.

The bilateral negotiations have not progressed since the failed February summit in Hanoi, where Washington considered Pyongyang’s offer regarding the dismantling of its nuclear assets insufficient and refused to lift the sanctions on the regime.

Since then, the Kim Jong-un-led regime has carried out several arms tests and toughened its rhetoric against the White House.

The two sides held a working meeting in early October in Stockholm, Sweden, which ended with North Korea accusing Washington of failing to offer anything new and actively maintaining its “hostile policy”.

Experts believe that if the talks don’t resume, the North Korean regime could carry out new weapons tests from January, especially of intermediate-range missiles.

Over the weekend, Kim chaired a meeting of the country’s top military officials to discuss political and military measures to bolster North Korea’s defensive capabilities.

On Dec.8, North Korea said it carried out a “very important test” at its Sohae satellite launch base that was of “great significance to the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea”.

Pyongyang had begun dismantling the launch pad and engine test stand at the Sohae base – two of its key installations- in July 2018 after the first summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.

The move was seen as a voluntary gesture and a part of progress towards denuclearization.However, in March 2019, after the failed bilateral summit between Kim and Trump in Hanoi, satellite images showed that North Korea had begun restoring structures in both the launch pad and the engine test stand.

The site, which has been lying dormant since August 2018, is not a part of the regime’s active missile program.

But it is the main site of the regime’s space program, where four important launches have taken place (with one of the attempts failing) in the year 2012 and 2016 where several satellites were put into orbit.

However, at the time, the international community had alleged that they were veiled intercontinental ballistic missile tests. EFE-EPA

US negotiator calls on Pyongyang to return to dialogue

Robie de Guzman   •   December 17, 2019

US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun speaks during a press conference after meeting with South Korea’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Lee Do-hoon (not pictured) on the ministry of foreign affairs in Seoul, South Korea, 16 December 2019. EPA-EFE/SONG KYUNG-SEOK

Seoul – The top United States official responsible for talks with North Korea on Monday called on Pyongyang to make progress on negotiations concerning denuclearization at a time of renewed tensions in the region.

“It is time for us to do our jobs. Let’s get this done. We are here and you know how to reach us,” said US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun at a press appearance in Seoul, where he had arrived to meet with South Korean officials to discuss the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

“I remain confident that all of this is possible. I believe we can do this, but the US cannot do it alone,” he added, according to Yonhap news agency.

Biegun’s trip to Seoul, which will conclude Wednesday, has led to expectations that he could visit the inter-Korean border to meet with regime officials, especially since Pyongyang has given a year-end deadline to Washington to reactivate talks with fresh proposals.

In this regard, Biegun underlined that “the US does not have a deadline. We have a goal to fulfill the commitments the two leaders made during their historic summit meeting in Singapore.”

Biegun was referring to the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018, during which they pledged to work towards denuclearization of the peninsula.

The official, who on Monday met with his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon and President Moon Jae-in, insisted that Washington would not give up on negotiations and was open to discussing any thorny issues.

Talks on disarmament have remained stalled since the failed second summit in Hanoi in February, where the US considered the number of active nuclear sites North Korea proposed to dismantle as insufficient and refused to lift sanctions.

Since then, North Korea has gradually resumed its weapons tests, toughened its stance, and given an end-of-year deadline to the US to bring more to the negotiating table.

In this regard, the US official on Monday termed the regime’s recent statements as “hostile, negative and unnecessary.”

Biegun’s visit also comes right after two long-range missile engine tests by the regime, raising concerns over the likelihood of North Korea test-firing long range missiles in the near future.

“We are fully aware of the strong potential for North Korea to conduct major provocations in the days ahead. To say the least, such an action will be most unhelpful in achieving the lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Biegun said. EFE-EPA

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North Korea says up to US to choose what ‘Christmas gift’ it wants

Robie de Guzman   •   December 3, 2019

A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (C) during a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a Township of Samjiyon County, North Korea, 02 December 2019. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un attended the ceremony. EPA-EFE/KCNA

Seoul – North Korea on Tuesday said it was up to the United States to chose what “Christmas gift” it wanted as the deadline to resume the stalled denuclearisation talks was drawing closer amid Washington’s continued “dialogue rhetoric”.

“What is left to be done now is the US’ option and it is entirely up to the US what Christmas gift it will select to get,” the North Korean foreign ministry said in a statement published by state news agency KCNA.

The statement quoted Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil Song saying that Pyongyang had “done its utmost with maximum perseverance not to backtrack from the important steps.”

This refers to North Korea’s self-imposed moratorium on tests of nuclear weapons and medium and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“Drawing nearer is the year-end time limit the DPRK (North Korea’s official name) set for the US. However, the US is keen on earning the time needed for it, talking about the ‘sustained and substantial dialogue,’ far from acting in response to the measures taken by the DPRK first,” Ri said.

The statement said North Korea had “heard more than enough dialogue rhetoric raised by the US whenever it is driven into a tight corner. So, no one will lend an ear to the US any longer.”

It said the talks touted by Washington was, “in essence, nothing but a foolish trick hatched to keep the DPRK bound to dialogue and use it in favor of the political situation and election in the US”.

Experts believe that if there is no progress in talks in the next few weeks, the North Korean regime could carry out new weapons tests from January, especially of intermediate-range missiles.

Bilateral negotiations have not advanced since a failed summit in February in Hanoi, where Washington refused to lift economic sanctions in return for what Pyongyang dismantling its nuclear assets.

Both parties held a working meeting in early October in Stockholm, Sweden, which ended with North Korea accusing Washington of failing to offer anything new and actively maintaining its “hostile policy”.

North Korean media on Tuesday also showed leader Kim Jong-un inaugurating a real estate project near Mount Paektu, a sacred site for the regime.

Given that important decisions have often followed visits to this area, some experts believe that Pyongyang wants to ramp up the pressure with this gesture.

Last week, North Korea fired two missiles into the Sea of Japan (also known as East Sea in the two Koreas) from a super large multiple-launch rocket system, prompting Pentagon to deploy reconnaissance aircraft over the Korean peninsula.

On Tuesday, the US aircraft flew over the region for the fifth time in less than a week in a gesture that some believe may be a deliberate warning message against threats from the North Korean regime. EFE-EPA

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