A taste of North Korea in Phnom Penh

What we say: 3.5 stars

If you’ve ever wanted to know more about North Korea, Phnom Penh offers a glimpse into the highly secretive hermit kingdom and its cuisine. Two restaurants in town not only serve North Korean fare but also feature a musical floor show performed by Pyongyang’s finest; yes, a complete cultural package.

DPRK patriots getting funky.

The show, which takes place at the restaurants on weekends at 20:00, features Korean traditional dance, singing and demonstrations of the waitresses’ prowess on at least a few musical instruments. The shows usually end with intoxicated South Koreans going up to sing karaoke.

The lovely, pale-skinned waitresses are firm believers in North Korean ideology — ask them if they like living in Cambodia or what they think of the weather here and they’ll rhapsodise about how much they miss the winters in Pyongyang. That is, of course, if you can understand them. They all speak at least a handful of languages, but English is usually not one of them. That’s why I am not sure if the two restaurants I’m listing here are part of the same operation or not. It seems likely — Pyongyang Restaurant has known ties to the North Korean regime and operates as means to funnel cash to the DPRK. The newer (and less busy) restaurant, Pyongyang Koryo probably has a similar function.

Regardless of what language you speak, the waitresses at both restaurants will do their best to make conversation with you and make sure that you are enjoying your dinner.

Say mul naengmyeon three times fast.

The menus at both restaurants feature standard Korean fare: bimbimbap, bulgogi, and so on, but also specialities that the DPRK are known for, such as mul naengmyeon, or cold noodles. As a Korean food aficionado, I was interested to see the difference between what’s served at North and South Korean restaurants in town — would the North Korean restaurants have a more pure version of Korean cuisine? The short answer is that North Korean food is not as spicy, they don’t serve you kimchi unless you order it ($3) and you’re lucky to get three or four banchan out of them. That said, I’ve never seen them use mayonnaise at a North Korean restaurant, clearly a capitalist influence that has made its way to the south.

Overall, the restaurants may not offer the best Korean food in town, but they do offer the best (and slightly surreal) Korean dining experience.

Pyongyang Restaurant
400 Monivong Blvd, Phnom Penh
T: (012) 565 311

Pyongyang Koryo Restaurant
10 St 200, Phnom Penh
T: (023) 216 002

About the author
Previously, Lina has been based in Oakland, California, New York City, Dublin and London. Lina spends most of her time thinking about food, travel and synthpop. She's currently based in Siem Reap.
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