Thursday, April 15, 2010

North Korea

(PICTURE: North Korean food is spicy.)

Huyen works with a South Korean man who recently told her about a delicious North Korean restaurant. Yeah, who knew that a South Korean would think anything North Korean was good. For me, I was just excited to try a new cuisine. The idea of eating North Korean food had never before crossed my mind (outside of when Ryan and I saw a North Korean restaurant in Cambodia last year). In fact, when I usually think of food and North Korea, it's about how millions of people are supposedly starving in that country.

The restaurant's name was Pyongyang. Yup, it doesn't get more North Korean than naming a restaurant after the capital of the country. I mean, do you know of any burger restaurants called "Washington, D.C."

When Huyen and I got to the restaurant we were greeted by a few sweet waitresses. They escorted us upstairs to the nearly empty dining room. There were a couple of tables of patrons all enjoying their meals. The food was pricey but really really really good. We had a duck dish and dumplings that were absolutely fantastic. Overall though the food was just like South Korean food which I've had many times. This actually made me think of the Dr. Seuss book "The Sneetches & Other Stories."

To me though, the most interesting thing about the restaurant wasn't the food but the North Koreans working there. It struck me while eating, "These people are from North Korea and are in Hanoi? I thought nobody leaves that country." It also struck me right after that though that this was probably a pretty ignorant thought. I asked Huyen to ask our waitress a couple of questions. You know, like "Why are you in Hanoi?" The waitress -- who only spoke a little Vietnamese -- said that she was going to study in Hanoi. We tried to ask a follow up question but the waitress basically ignored us and wandered away. In fact, none of the girls working there wanted to answer any questions. They just seemed, well, nervous that we were asking them anything personal. I quickly got a vibe that I should shut up. There was something very strange about the environment there and I couldn't help but think that socializing with an American was probably something they were told by their government never to do.

The next day Huyen told her coworker that we ate at the restaurant. She asked the coworker a few questions about the restaurant and quickly learned that the restaurant is OWNED AND OPERATED by the North Korean embassy.

By no means am I going to claim to be an expert on North Korea. I read a lot in the news about North Korea but frankly my knowledge beyond that is minimal. However, this little brush with North Korea makes me feel that the things we read about that country and their human rights are probably as bad and probably worse than we're led to believe.