North Koreans Can Now Enjoy a Quick Burger and Fries — For a Price

By Sadie Bass

Jul 28, 2009 10:19am

ABC's Joohee Cho reports from Seoul, South Korea: Images of North Korea to the outside world are predominantly militaristic and nuclear. The imprinted images of their cultural aspect also remain largely totalitarian. I still remember the chill that shot through my spine in 2006 watching six year-olds performing at the Pyongyang’s annual mass games. Big fake smiles in freezing temperature, their moves were in perfect flawless unison. Same fake smiles were spotted at the national state-run arts academy when performers were playing the cello and dancing to propaganda songs. This weekend, I saw that same smile in a picture that was reported to be Pyongyang’s first ever fast-food restaurant. Two women wearing black half-sleeve t-shirts with turquoise blue aprons stood at a counter looking straight into the camera. Behind them was an open kitchen that would be of a typical McDonald’s or Burger King. Above them was a billboard menu with photos of what surely looked like a hamburger, potato wedges, and ice-filled paper cup of coke and straws.   Now that, definitely was off my list of North Korea images. According to a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, ‘the restaurant is a fast food center that has drawn interest from citizens who are sensitive to new things’. A Singaporean waffle company has ‘cooperated’ in setting up the shop, but the ingredients are ‘all domestic.’  The report said the center aims to ‘localize’ the fast food concept, and not to ‘copy others’ referring specifically to ‘western food culture.’ Well, I can’t comment on the taste for now, but the names of menu items do seem ‘localized’. Hamburgers are called ‘minced beef and bread’; waffles are ‘flat baked bread’; and a ‘course menu’ comes with additional ‘potato porridge’ and ‘kimchi’. (Kimchi is a typical Korean spicy marinated pickled cabbage.) In the future, the report said they have plans to add croissants and hot dogs. It’s actually not the first time Pyongyang has tried something new. Last March, there have been reports that an Italian restaurant selling pizza and spaghetti has opened business. Around that time, North Korean central state-run television had even aired a cooking program to show how pizza is made. From interviewing defectors, I have also learned that citizens in Pyongyang enjoy home-delivered fried chicken, watch illegally imported DVDs of South Korean dramas, and sing at karaoke bars. Nothing too far from what ordinary Asian people do for entertainment. Of course the difference is that a majority of people in North Korea can not enjoy the privilege. A ‘minced beef and bread’ costs $1.70 which is more than half the average daily income.

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