The First North Korean Restaurant in Europe

North Korea Flag


The meal is good. It’s Korean, nine courses (various mushroom dishes, black chicken soup, traditional barbecue, rice balls for dessert) and nicely presented – but no different or more exotic than you would get at any South Korean restaurant in a large German city. The lady in Korean dress tells me that kimchi (fermented cabbage) ensures longevity. She and her colleagues are ever-present, making small talk, pouring water, clearing and serving – except when they’re entertaining us with karaoke, playing the piano, and doing theater skits.

I learn they’ve been stationed in Europe for three years and live nearby, and that they’re members of the North Korean elite. If they flee, their families back in North Korea will suffer consequences. But they are still guarded, neighbors have told the Dutch media. The cooks aren’t as carefully watched because they have all worked in China, where the North Korean government runs several restaurants in order to bring in foreign currency.

Foreign currency is not the point of the Dutch initiative, however, at least according to the person who launched the idea, Remco van Daal. He gives us a tour of the second floor of the cultural center after the meal. Here there’s an art gallery featuring the kind of art dictators love: images depicting smiling workers, machine guns. Kim writings are on display in a room with pamphlets, posters and postcards. The items are not presently for sale, van Daal says; he’s still working on the merchandizing angle.

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