金剛山 Geumgang Food
I should start off with the fantastic lunch I had the second day at the Orkyukwan North Korean restaurant. The second picture, Pyongyang Naengmyeon, is a Korean cold noodle dish. With some vinegar that I added, I think I could eat it everyday! Definitely the best food I have had anywhere on the Korean peninsula. I also enjoyed the special tea that came with it and the fresh kimchi. For some reason, the kimchi I’ve had in North Korea tastes better, is less salty, tastes more fresh, and has a better texture than kimchi I’ve had anywhere else. At $12, maybe expensive for the locale, but worth it!
The second night I went for South Korean food, since none of the North Korean restaurants open had food appropriate for vegetarians. The one with bibimbap near my hotel was closed because of electrical problems. This turned out to be a good choice, as the other foreigners in my hotel went for North Korean pork. The portions for $25 were apparently small, and the hair was still on the skin of the pig they ate. I spent $10 for some finger food, 야채쌈밥 (Yachae ssambap). Originally it would include pork, though after stating I was vegetarian, they brought fish slices instead. It is a common Korean dish, and one of the most fun to eat. You take pieces of lettuce and put other food inside before rolling it up and eating it with your hands.
Before going on to the more interesting drinks, I should note the water from Geumgang is fantastic. Amazingly clean, just like the air.
One of the highlights of eating and dining was the second night I was in Geumgang. I went to the North Korean restaurant within the hotel. Two other foreigners were there, one of which could speak Korean pretty well. The vocabulary of South and North has diverged (the North trying to get rid of Chinese-influenced words of the past and shunning the importation of English vocabulary as happens now in the South), making things a bit more difficult for translation. But it was great to ask the waitresses lots of questions while drinking some North Korean 12° Beer. I did not have any of the snake liquor – I figured it would cost me too much to buy. We ate some egg pancake with it. Not at all oily like the ones I am used to eating in China and elsewhere.
Some things of interest I got from the conversation – people in North Korea often find their girlfriends/wives in parks, kind of like in many places in China. The waitresses were very interested in one of the foreigners, who had previously served as a prison guard. They thought the best job in the prison would be an executioner. Our own questions and points about killing people being undesirable did not seem to resonate with them. I don’t see reform of prisoners rather than hard punishment taking effect in North Korea anytime soon… though I didn’t before the conversation either. They were not interested in living abroad, saying North Korea is too different than other societies. I think they have a point there. They seemed to think girlfriends/wives should be subservient to the man in a relationship. It would not be appropriate to them for the girl to start the relationship.
While in the restaurant, some South Korean tourists came in and started to woo the waitresses. They, however, took many pictures. Taking pictures of North Koreans in North Korea is very much frowned upon, unless they let you (not likely in most situations, and especially not unless you get their permission first). The waitresses were quite cold toward them after that. Upon that happening, a scary looking woman came into the room and collected money from all the tables for what had been ordered. Toward the end, we had two of the three waitresses talking to us, while the South Koreans had none. I should point out that the South Koreans on the bus in SOuth Korea potrayed themselves as hardcore Christians… but I didn’t know disrespect for others was a Christrian trait. If Korea becomes united again, I think the South Korean Christian Taliban will piss off North Koreans just as much as they have pissed off other Asian people for what they have done.
I wanted to have Pyongyang Naengmyeon again for lunch the last day, but there was no time. I had to catch the bus back to the South, and those leave according to a very specific schedule. At least I was able to get money back for my unused meal ticket.
I should not forget to include the North Korean food and drink I brought back with me. Hard candy, like Ricola that tastes like mushrooms. Maybe disturbingly so for some people, but I love mushrooms. I also got Mushroom Absinthe (60 proof), Pine Pollen Wild Honey (which includes sexual hormones on its ingredient list), and Inam Ginger Tea. Also, not pictured is another bottle of mushroom liquor. The other people I shared it with found the taste somewhat disturbing initially, but agreed the aftertaste was quite nice. It seems to have good potential for cooking rather than just for drinking.