Pyongyang Okyru: a surreal lunch at Bangkok's secretive North Korean chain restaurant

North Korean Food and Drink

in Bangkok, Thailand

I've just returned from what was possibly the strangest and most surreal dining experience of my life. This afternoon, I had lunch at Pyongyang Okryu, a North Korean chain restaurant owned and operated by the North Korean government right on Bangkok's busy Sukhumvit Road. It is difficult to find the traditional food of the secretive hermit kingdom outside of North Korea, but this, one of the government's few international ventures, is bringing North Korean cuisine to the world.

a North Korean lunch in Bangkok, Thailand

I stepped inside the cool and quiet restaurant and out of the sweltering humidity of an afternoon on lower Sukhumvit Road. It was noisy and hectic outside, as foreign businessmen and tourists jostled each other alongside Thai workers, taxi drivers, and tourists from all around the globe.

Inside the restaurant it was quiet, save for the uptempo and slightly manic patriotic music playing from speakers set throughout the restaurant. A group of pretty young waitresses dressed in stylish white and yellow floral dresses bowed and greeted us as we entered.

As we were in the neighborhood, we had decided on a whim to visit the famous Pyongyang Okryu Restaurant, one of the very few North Korean restaurants located outside of the "hermit kingdom" itself. The waitresses were all North Koreans, chosen to be the attractive smiling faces of the secretive and elusive country to the outside world. They can speak and understand both Thai and English, but do not have conversations with customers except to answer questions about the food.

Pyongyang Okryu Restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand

Pyongyang Okyru is one of the few foreign business ventures run by the secretive country, and is a big part of North Korea's efforts to re-brand and present itself and its culture in a positive light abroad.

"No photos. No Videos." read a sign posted in big black letters on the wall. Recently, the restaurant has relaxed its stance a bit, although photographs of the staff are strictly forbidden. You may take photographs of the food, although it is probably a good idea to ask for permission first.

Before looking at the menu, we decided to order something to drink. Unfortunately they didn't offer any North Korean beer, which I would have been excited to try. Instead, I decided to order a bottle of Daesong Soju, a rice wine that is produced locally in North Korea and is supposed to be very popular within the country. Soju is similar to Japanese sake, and is a bit strong. Our waitress served us each a shot glass from which we could sip the wine, and attentively made sure that our glasses were never empty. Daesong Soju is described as the finest North Korean soju, and is the main soju product that the country wants to introduce to outsiders.

a bottle of North Korean soju

Daesong Soju is a mild and relatively smooth soju without any strong flavors. According the the description in the menu, it is made from the spring water of Shindeok Spring at the foot of the Sinduksan Mountain and flavored with Korean acorns. The menu also mentioned how the natural spring contains all sorts of excellent minerals which are supposed to be very good for health and longevity. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the taste! I actually don't have much experience with Korean soju. The soju was served chilled in tiny porcelain cups, and was super easy to drink.

Soon, it was time to place our lunch order. My girlfriend and I decided to order several dishes and share. We wanted to make sure that we tried some of the food that is especially unique to North Korean cuisine. First, we ordered a large plate of soondae, or Pyongyang sausage. These mild black sausages were made with pork blood and sticky rice. I'm not a huge fan of blood, and I was quite skeptical when my girlfriend ordered this dish.

Even when I order a full English breakfast, I always avoid black pudding, and this was my first time tasting blood sausage. The flavor was mild and quite nice, and there was a light dust of mild chili and sesame seeds that you could dip the sausage in. I have to admit, however, that I actually really ended up liking it, and it may even have been my very favorite dish, and I'm so glad that I tried it!

Pyongyang sausage, (soondae, 순대) a type of famous black sausage stuffed with sticky rice

We also received an appetizer tray alongside the soju. It came with pickled carrots, pickled radish, and a type of Korean pancake made from egg and flour (which I especially loved). We also ordered a large plate of white kimchi. Kimchi is a type of pickled cabbage which is very popular in Korean cuisine. Usually it's red, and it often has a very sharp and slightly sour and spicy flavor. This white kimchi was far more mild than any kimchi I had ever tried before, and was even a bit sweet.

appetizers and fresh white kimchi

The main course was naengmyeon, or Pyongyang cold noodles. This dish has become a very important symbol of peace in the past few years, and is even becoming more and more popular in the South. During a recent historic peace summit, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un of North Korea served this Pyongyang delicacy to his South Korean counterpart, President Moon Jae-in. He expressed his hopes that the two countries could find common footing, and the two leaders shared a meal of naengmyeon together.

Shortly thereafter, the dish became increasingly popular in South Korea, where the people began to view it as a symbol of peace and reconciliation between the two Koreas.

Pyongyang Naengmyeon 

Our waitress placed the big metal pot of noodles in the middle of the table in front of us, then began to expertly prepare our individual servings. First, she began stirring the noodles with a pair of tongs, making sure to toss the black buckwheat noodles in all of the richly flavored broth. Without a word, she began adding sesame paste and white rice vinegar to the perfect proportion, then began cutting the noodles with a large pair of scissors into just the right bite-sized portions! She was very skilled, and evidently quite practiced in serving the perfect bowl of noodles.

We were each served a delicious bowl of perfectly-prepared noodles topped with thinly sliced pork, lots of veggies, and half of a boiled egg each. As the name suggests, the noodles are served cold, which makes the chewy texture of the buckwheat noodles even tastier.

North Korean buckwheat noodles

When the waitress returned to check on us, she couldn't help but crack a smile when she picked up the bottle of soju to find it empty. "It's very good! I liked it a lot!", I told her.

Paintings of North Korean landscapes covered the walls, and a framed and mounted set of North Korean won (the national currency) was displayed above the cashier's desk, complete with smiling portrait of Kim Il-sung, the first Supreme Leader and current Eternal President (despite his death in 1994) of North Korea. It was an odd feeling, and just by entering the restaurant I immediately felt as though I had been transported hundreds of miles away directly into the heart of Pyongyang itself.

interior of Pyongyang Okryu Restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand

It was a strange experience to eat at this restaurant, but I really enjoyed my lunch. I understand that there are definitely ethical implications about spending money on a venture which directly supports the North Korean government, but I also believe that mutual understanding is a vital step towards peace. I bear no ill will towards the North Korean people, and I truly believe that food is one of the best ways to reach a cultural understanding.

💲💲 - not cheap, but reasonable for a full meal at a sit-down restaurant

Pyongyang Okryu
On Sukumvit Road between BTS Asoke and Phrom Pong (slightly closer to Asoke Station)

Official Facebook Page

Important Information
  • The staff, all of whom come from North Korea, can speak basic Thai and English. 
  • Photographs are permitted of the food, but taking photos of the staff is absolutely forbidden.
  • Please note that this restaurant is owned and operated by the North Korean government. While the food is as authentic as it can get, your patronage directly supports the regime.