Bangkok's North Korean restaurant is so much more than just a novelty.
When Pyongyang Okryu, one of a chain of eateries operated by the North Korean regime, arrived in Ekkamai in 2015, it caused consternation among Bangkok diners for potentially funneling their dinner money into the hermit dictatorship—as well as for not letting them take any photos.
But Pyongyang Okryu also offered a curiously tasty, and memorable, experience. Now, after shutting down in June, the restaurant has returned, bringing its beauty-queen waitresses and surreal dance shows to a new, even more central location, right on Sukhumvit Road.
Though just as sterile as before, the new interior does have its kitsch moments of mismatched color, in the form of tiny vases of Thai-style plastic lotus flowers on every table, and wallpaper bearing Tad Yuang waterfall in Laos.
Novelty aside, the food has its high points, too. The menu covers traditional North Korean dishes that are not dissimilar from the more familiar Southern fare, including bibimbap (B280), bibim myun (mixed cold noodles with sweet chili sauce and boiled egg, B280), so galbi tang (beef rib soup, B300) and Pyongyang sausage (rice blood sausage, B250).
What’s more, every night at 8pm, the restaurant comes alive with old-school disco lights and the sound of traditional instruments as the waitresses change into glittery outfits and perform a 20-minute song and dance.
Groups may want to try the barbecue (minimum two portions), covering pork belly (B300 for 500g), cuttlefish (B380) and, our pick, duck (B550/500g). They also do weekday lunch sets (11am-2pm) starting at B200.
And about those photos: they're now allowed—just not of the staff.
Note: Before visiting, do take into consideration that the bulk of the restaurant’s profits are funneled back to Pyongyang, and reports suggest those sent abroad to service such restaurants may face unfavorable conditions.
BK Food Review ★★★
This review took place in December 2016 and is based on a visit to Pyongyang Okyru’s old Ekkamai location without the restaurant's knowledge. For more on BK's review policy, click here.
Here in Bangkok where South Korean restaurants can be found in almost every neighborhood, food from its Northern sister still remains an enigma. But despite the secrecy that surrounds this closed nation, North Korea’s government actually wants to expose some of its culture to the outside world, and is personally behind this chain of restaurants named after the capital. There are now over 100 Pyongyang-branded locations around the world.
An outdated storefront with dark-tinted windows hides an interior of faux trees, golden curtains, floral tablecloths and walls dotted with signs telling you not to take photos (though they were OK with us snapping the food on our last visit). Young North Korean waitresses who look straight out of beauty queen contests offer on-point service, grilling the barbecue dishes for you as in South Korean restaurants.
The duck barbecue (B500) is tender and flavorful, covered in a tasty marinade and grilled in duck fat that gives a heady aroma, while the lightly-seasoned beef belly (B500) lets its unique flavor shine. Elsewhere on the extensive menu, North Korean classics like Pyongyang cold noodles (B250) and beef soup (B300) feature the same deep and flavorful broth. The noodles are springy and beef cooked to a point of perfect tenderness.
We also like the peppery Pyongyang sausage (B250), which gives out hints of blood amid a rice stuffing. No different from the South Korean version is their bibimbap (Korean mixed rice with vegetables and chicken, B280). It’s also a good one, served in a hot bowl with flavorful sauce and well-cooked rice.
Overall, the flavors of North Korean food seem milder than those of the South. Their kimchi, for example, lies on the more refreshing side—less tangy and spicy but a bit sweeter. Eating at Pyongyang Okryu is a curiously pleasant experience that we’ll no doubt be returning to.
|Address:||Pyongyang Okryu, Between Sukhumvit Soi 25-27, next to Radisson Blu hotel Ekkamai Rd., Bangkok, Thailand|
|Price Range:||BB - BBB|
|Open since:||July, 2017|
|Opening hours:||daily 11am-11pm|
|Nearest train||BTS Asok|
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