In North Korea we were well fed – more than well. I think at every meal we ate like a North Korean would on a very special occasion, a few times a year.
We ate in restaurants with a set menu for every lunch and dinner. The food would come out, and keep coming, and then stop, with no warning. There would usually be 6 or 7 starter dishes to share (eg. kimchi, grilled chicken, pickled cucumber, battered fish, braised tofu, scrambled eggs, pork dumplings) and then a main dish such as bibimbap AND a soup. At first I tried to eat a bit of everything but after a while I gave up midway through the starters.
One hint is that white rice is generally the last dish served, because it’s the cheapest and therefore the least impressive. As one of our fellow Aussie travellers put it, it’s the “pay and fuck off” dish.
One lunchtime we had the option to order “sweet meat soup” (pictured above) – dog, which is a delicacy and for which we had to pay extra. This caused a lot of discussion amongst the group. One woman declared “I’m not eating someone’s dog!” as if no canine could exist without being a human’s pet. Later we saw someone out walking their dog and Bernd told the same woman that they were “walking their dinner home” haha.
Someone else wanted to know whether their soup would contain just one dog, or several dogs all mixed up? (as if you’d ever think about whether your burger contained meat from one cow or many).
Bernd and I ate the soup, partly because it was a cultural experience and partly because I would’ve felt like a hypocrite if I hadn’t. I eat other animals, why not dog? It was ok. It was a hot and spicy soup on a very hot day, which the Koreans believe is cooling. I don’t get that. It might have been better in another sort of dish.
Several people on our tour wouldn’t eat the local food at all. One guy survived entirely on large bags of crisps. Another announced that he only eats skinless and boneless chicken (good luck travelling anywhere else in Asia). Some would say “please try that and tell me what it is”. In the spirit of group harmony I refrained from yelling “just shut up and eat it!” but I wanted to. I have no patience with fussy eaters.
At one lunch we had the option to order traditional Pyongyang cold noodles, which the restaurant was famous for, or fried rice. I don’t understand why you’d go for the latter option in that situation. What’s the worst that could happen? You might not like the cold noodles. Nothing ventured nothing gained. They were quite tasty and unusual, unlike anything I’d eaten before.
A final word about vegetarians. Although I was a vegetarian for 9 years (‘in my youth’) now I admit I find them annoying, especially when travelling, and especially when they complain about their food options. If you choose to visit a country where practically nobody is vegetarian, it seems arrogant to expect a wide variety of delicious meatless meals. Mostly what they got was rice, marinated tofu and vegetables which seemed like a pretty good deal to me. Generous, even 🙂