Well, it is important to have a hobby, better still to have more than one hobby, so I’m luckier than most in that I have loads of hobbies! Namely, street food, drinking, North Korea, travel, and collecting Canadian quarters. Alas it is rare for all, or some, of these to intertwine but with me going to North Korea to watch the Glorious Fatherland Mass Games that had North Korea and Red Travel out of the way, but this time I was heartened by my Socialist Single-Hearted Unity to get myself involved in the ever-growing North Korean Street Food scene!
The North Korean street food scene
So, is there a North Korean Street Food scene? 10 years ago when I first started taking tourists into North Korea there really wasn’t, but in the last 10 years, I have seen a real upsurge in the economy of North Korea, with increased private enterprise, and with private enterprise comes good street grub (in my experience). The problem? North Koreans want to show you the best about their country and alas this does not include street dining, but I was not to be put off!
Step one on the glorious journey to the Democratic Republic had us taking the train from Beijing before traveling and changing to the North Korean train at Dandong. Does train food count as street food? I guess not, but the food on the train from Sinuiju to Pyongyang is not only awesome but probably the best train meal I have ever had. It’s around $10 and consists of around 6 dishes including a vegetable soup, chicken, fermented fish, vegetables, and of course rice and kimchi. Wash that down with a few Taedonggang beers and the journey ends in no time.
First ever hamburger restaurant in Pyongyang
Our first meal was set up in a fancy Pyongyang restaurant, which is standard, but at night, and as we were staying at the Youth Hotel, I went to check out the Hamburger restaurant that was the first-ever one in Pyongyang. Did Kim Jong Il invent the hamburger? I think not, but he did invent a restaurant that aside from having great burgers and fried chicken, also sells beer. More fast-food restaurants need a beer.
German style hotdog and a glass of draft beer
Day 2, which was also my only full day in Pyongyang proved to be quite the cluster fuck, with it being the biggest celebration to hit the DPR of Korea in many years as well as the premiere of Glorious Fatherland! But where there is adversity there is also an opportunity which ended up with us at the Kwankob Department store, where you can change Korean money at the black market rate. On this day it was 1300 to 1 RMB, with 100 Chinese making me quite the rich man. Time being of the essence I headed to the closest food I could see, a big German-style hotdog for 10K (8 RMB). Washed down with a juice for 500, or less than half an RMB. Good value, and great taste.
Street food though needs street beer and I headed out into the beer garden where a glass of draft set me back 2k, or again less than 2 RMB. North Korea actually has a fabulous draft beer scene, and this lager in the sun was a treat in itself.
So, whilst I could not call my very quick trip to North Korea a rip-roaring street food success, it had its moment and I intend to explore things again. If I go back to North Korea…..