By Alek Sigley, founder of Tongil Tours and postgraduate student at Kim Il Sung University.
As mentioned previously, Kim Il Sung University is located in a prime location. It, and the Foreign Student Dormitory we live in are on one end of Ryomyong (“dawn”) Street, the DPRK’s most recent large-scale residential construction project. This project renovated the street with a host of new apartments, including the tallest apartment block in the country, the 70 Storey Apartment (70층짜리 아빠트), and space for scores of shops and restaurants.
In this post I’m going to introduce some of the more interesting shops and restaurants I discovered during my first semester at Kim Il Sung University (April-July 2018). Most of these are down the other end of the street from the dormitory, by the 70 Storey Apartment. I’ll omit the ones I’ve already talked about, but you can read about them in the separate posts I’ve already published (Ryongnamsan Musical Instrument Store, the May the 1st Stadium brand specialty store, Kumgangsan Retaurant and the Mindulle Shop).
Yongbok Restaurant (영복식당)
Located next to Jonu Subway Station (전우역) and the “Tower of Eternal Life” (영생탑) on the western edge of Ryomyong Street, across the road from the 70 Storey Apartment, is Yongbok Restaurant (in fact it’s just a floor down from the Mindulle Shop– it’s on the 2nd floor and the Mindulle Shop is on the 3rd).
I come here with other students from the dormitory every now and then when we want a change from the restaurant in the 2nd floor of the dormitory. The food is not bad, and like a lot of restaurants in Pyongyang, has a mix of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese influences. There’s a fried chicken wings in chilli sauce dish that has a certain Sichuanese flavour to it, given by the mouth numbing Sichuanese chilli peppers that have been mixed in, Chinese-style meatballs, Korean dumplings (mandu), hotpot, japchae (cellophane noodles with meat and vegetables), pollock roe on rice with a fried egg on top (which makes it look a little Japanese), and more.
But the stand-out feature of this restaurant would be that it has tablet computers built into the tables, from which you can look through the electronic menu, make your orders, and access a range of apps from games to e-book readers.
The electronic menu:
The order screen:
Most of the games seem to be foreign tablet games translated into Korean. They seem to be the same games Koreans can pay to have installed on their smartphones or tablet PCs:
I had a mess around with this zombie killing game:
And this one where you have to sneak past the lazy, evil landlord. This one is a good fit with North Korean ideology (in DPRK fiction, landlords are featured as evil characters in every story set in the early 1950s land reform and earlier):
There’s another section with “practical applications”, where you can use dictionary and encyclopedia apps, learn to tie a Windsor knot and a bow tie with step-by-step instructions, or read the works of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, or read revolutionary novels about what Kim Il Sung’s revolutionary activities in the 1920s and 30s.
I also had a look at an app that had school textbooks and other educational materials, browsing this instructional book for teachers of elementary school 1st year drawing class:
In one lesson plan, I read about the need to make clear one’s source when citing the teachings of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, or Kim Jong Un.
I tried to connect to the “web”, whatever that might be, since there was a button for a browser. But sadly, nothing happened:
Then I had a play around in this typing practice application for children.
Fun times spent in Yongbok Restaurant with my friends– Han Sol enjoying himself:
The Ryomyong Street Mall (려명거리종합상업구)
This is the first place I’ve seen in North Korea that is laid out like a shopping mall. From the design of the space to the concept of having a variety of different shops and restaurants under one roof, I was quite surprised to see it the first time I stumbled in. Some of the Koreans I’ve talked to refer to it as “the mall”, which is interesting. It’s located at the base of the 70 Storey Apartment, the tallest building in Ryomyong Street.
There are some excellent restaurants here. The Kumgangsan Restaurant that I discussed in a previous blog post is located in the mall. There’s also the Taesongsan Restaurant (대성산식당), which serves a killer barbecue (bulgogi). They squeeze a pineapple slice onto the meat, which is something I’ve never seen anywhere else before. Browsing the menu, I saw cocktails such as the Singapore Sling and daiquiri, coffee, from espressos to latte macchiatos ($3-$6 USD), and a flaming ice cream for $19.50 USD. Fancy!
The Air Koryo Shop (Air Koryo the North Korean airline has in the past few years started producing its own processed food, from soft drinks to canned fish) is also here, which is another example of the recent trend of brands starting up their own specialty stores. But when I entered I didn’t see any Air Koryo products. I didn’t even see any food or beverages, just a generic selection of clothing and toys.
There’s also a pharmacy and a few other shops selling non-perishable items.
Miniso aka Jinhwa (“Evolution”)
Not far from the mall is the Green Architecture IT Center (록색건축기술교류사). On the 2nd floor is the Ryongnamsan Musical Instrument Shop which I introduced in a previous post. On the 1st floor is Miniso, now known as Jinhwa (“evolution”), which was (or still is?) the first and only international chain store in the DPRK. For those not aware of Miniso, it’s a Chinese lifestyle retailer with a Japanese aesthetic. It’s kind of in-between famous Japanese brands such as Uniqlo, Muji, and Daiso.
I’m glad this place exists because I’ve been able to get some decent quality items here without having to break the bank. When my earphones broke all I could find in the other shops were ones that were around $1 USD but had the most awful sound quality. At Miniso I was able to find a very decent pair for $8 USD. Miniso was also the only place I could find that sold laundry nets for some of my button-up shirts which I wanted to keep in good condition through repeated washes. I also picked up an excellent umbrella here for $8, the kind that folds up really nice but still provides good coverage when unfolded.
As far as I can tell, this store is very popular with locals. Every time I come here there are always a couple, usually younger and fashionably dressed, people here. This is in stark contrast with many other stores I see which tend to be deserted. It’s also really interesting to be in a space with such a “modern” design aesthetic in Pyongyang. When stepping inside this store you can almost feel like you’re in a different country, or at least that globalisation has at long last come to Pyongyang.
After a semester living in the area, I thought I had seen just about everything in Ryomyong Street. It was then that Han Sol took me to this restaurant, in the Mallima Shop (만리마종합상점) not far from the mall and the May the 1st Stadium shop.
The interior was pretty cool, but how about the food? Looking at the menu we saw South Korean-style tteokbokki with cheese.
So we ordered that and a few other Korean dishes. I thought about trying the coffee but decided not to at $3 a cup. Han Sol had come here once before and said the food was alright. But suddenly, a waitress came out and apologetically told us they couldn’t make most of the dishes we had ordered. So we decided to take a gamble and try the pizza. Big mistake.
The bread was not pizza bread at all, it was generic sweet bread and slightly stale. And they were covered in tomato sauce not tomato paste. And it took ages to come out and was on the expensive side. Oh well, it was an experience at least.
At least we got to drink it with some of this orange juice, “with real sac”.
Han Sol and I also stumbled across this really nice store, with loads of imported goods from Nutella to Japanese sake, a block away from the mall, not on the main street but a bit down one of the medium sized roads coming off it. It had a selection of products in nicely presented display cases on the 1st floor just beside the stairs going up to the shop.
Sometimes you’ll find these really nice import stores in the most unexpected places. I think it goes to show that there are more and more people with disposable income now in Pyongyang.
Well, that’s it for this post. But who knows what else we’ll discover in Ryomyong Street next semester!