In late 2006 I received a strange call from a friend asking if we wanted to be on television. More specifically, did we want to do a television spot for a recently opened North Korean restaurant in Bangkok? Sure why not.
A friend of a friend of a friend (I think I got that right) was working for a Japanese Television station. That network had tried to do a story about the restaurant but was refused, probably on the grounds of being Japanese. Much like the south, North Korea has never really forgiven Japan for their past colonialist actions. Anyhow, they needed a couple of spies. We were it. We were given a few thousand baht and a video camera and off we went.
I was actually kind of nervous as we approached the place. If they didn't want Japanese people in their establishment, would they be very happy letting a few camera toting Americans in?
The strangeness began when we arrived. Stepping into the restaurant felt like stepping into another country. Pretty, high bred North Korean girls met us at the door and showed us a seat. They didn't speak any English, so we made do with our minimal Korean.
We were given menus which were in Korean which luckily we could read. There were a lot of familiar Korean items that we'd eaten literally hundreds of times. We asked our waitress about one or two unfamiliar items and made our choices.
Some very decent banchan arrived and the filming began.
I was especially intrigued to watch the dynamics between the wait staff and their handler. You see, the workers in this restaurant were all from North Korea. North Koreans have a tendency to defect once outside their home country, so they had a rather serious looking handler who was watching their every move. She wore the ubiquitous Kim Il Sung pin. Ki Il Sung is the "Great Leader" of North Korea of course. He's the head of state even though he's been dead since 1994. His son kim jong Il is merely the "Dear Leader."
A large plate of Kimchi arrived. We actually had to pay for this which is unusual, but at least it was rather monstrous.
Next our giant Mandoo arrived. Yikes!
Next, the very North Korean Pyongyang on-ban arrived.
It was a tasty rice soup, topped with chicken, mushrooms, and radish. The broth had a light and healthy flavor.
The food was really only of marginal interest to us. The real point of interest was the wait staff who were multi talented performers.
First up, the lovely ladies entertained us with acrobatics. I was a bit too transfixed to capture it adequately. Next they dressed in traditional clothes, or hanbok, and sang traditional songs.
So far so good.
Next, after a quick costume change, the lovely ladies entertained us with more singing and dancing.
I kept wondering if an evil robotic Walt Disney was hiding behind the curtain.
Next were were treated to another musical performance with our ladies playing a variety of instruments.
After this little performance I expected them to reassemble their assault rifles while blindfolded. It's really not that large of a stretch of the imagination.
After a couple hours of eating, singing, and dancing, we left with one of the most bizarre dining experiences of our lives.
For a look at the whole set, go here.