By Alek Sigley, founder of Tongil Tours and postgraduate student at Kim Il Sung University.
On Saturday the 15th of September I got together with some of the Chinese exchange students at Kim Il Sung University to go and try the Corn Specialty Restaurant (강냉이 제품전시장) in East Pyongyang. The result is what will be the corniest of my blog posts yet.
Located not far from the diplomatic compound, the restaurant features a shop on the first floor that sells a large variety of corn-based snacks, and a 2nd floor restaurant that specialises in dishes that feature corn as an ingredient. While culturally Koreans prefer rice, the DPRK state has put great effort into promoting corn and potato-based foods, since these grow easier in the North’s cold climate and mountainous terrain.
Every district of Pyongyang has its own corn specialty restaurant, but these are generally not open to foreigners. This one, which is a part of a much larger corn-dedicated complex, is an exception however.
We arrived by taxi and went up to the second floor, deciding to have some bulgogi with our corn. Seated in the main dining area, we ordered a fried corn and pine seed dish, a corn pancake (inspired by Japanese okonomiyaki), roasted corn dumplings, and chicken corn-based noodles with our bulgogi. We finished off with a serving of “nutritious” (강냉이 영양크림) corn ice cream each, apparently good for the skin. It was a veritable cornucopia for lovers of the Aztec crop.
We drank some beers and talked about how much we missed my roommate, who had departed the dormitory last week, and about the new tongsukaeng (Korean students who live in the dormitory with us) arrivals. We also chatted with the waitress, who was very friendly, talked to us about all matters corn-related, and went out of the way to give us tips on eating how to best eat our meal. A good tip she gave that I’ll take with me will be to dip the bulgogi side dish garlic slices in chilli sauce (gochuchang) before putting them on top of the meat and wrapping them up in lettuce.
After paying for our meal, which cost about $22 USD, we browsed the corn product shop on the ground floor. It had everything from corn instant noodles, corn chips, corn rice, corn biscuits, and a variety of other corn-based snacks.
We bought a few things, and departed after taking a selfie in the front—I’m two years off thirty so still allowed to!
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the neighbourhood, one of Pyongyang’s most colourful architecturally.
Not far down the street from the corn restaurant we came across a seemingly endless line of trucks that were each filled with soldiers sitting in the back. They were male and female, and some were in navy uniforms while others were evidently infantry.
Seeing us foreigners they got excited and waved, and we too, being swept up in the festive atmosphere and their big smiles and warm greetings, waved back. But we ended up being exhausted as one after another they kept coming past in an infinite stream. We were at an intersection and trying to cross the very road that they were all coming down, which made it hard for us to extricate ourselves to stop our arm muscles from aching from all the waving.
But when we finally did we decided to check out the East Pyongyang “Naegohyang” (think North Korean Adidas) store not too far away. The other branch in Mirae Scientist’s Street I have blogged about in a separate post.
It was surprising to see that they had their own Nike and Adidas sections complete with electric Nike and Adidas logos. But my two Chinese friends, who have seen their fair share of fakes, think that despite the fact the shoes were priced at $100 USD and thus what you might pay for a genuine pair, were not in fact genuine.
I also noticed that the floor plan sign in the shop has English alongside the Korean, which isn’t something you see often over here.
The Morinaga (a popular Japanese chocolate brand) chocolates in the grocery store on the ground floor reminded me of my wife, whose surname is Morinaga.
With such thoughts in mind I called a taxi and we went back home to the Kim Il Sung University Foreign Student Dormitory, content with a good afternoon’s adventure.