Room 39

If there are 90,000 ways to show your gratitude to the Great Leader of North Korea, then you’ll have to multiply that to please my tummy.

Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation geographically “uncovers the best in culinary cuisine across the world,” hopping from one exotic island to another, from a Michelin-rated fine dining restaurant to the cheapest table halfway around the globe. Like a veteran investigator, he identifies each ingredient of the food, dissecting it to its core, whereas I, in my pursuit of such similar culinary adventures in Jakarta, simply ask my wife.

And it was how I discovered the existence of the state-run Pyongyang Restaurant in Jakarta, Indonesia. 

The restaurants serve North Korean food, which is really not all that different from South Korean food, but since it’s from the Northern side then there’s a certain appeal to tasting what isn’t readily available elsewhere in the world. 

The staff are attractive, young North Korean women in traditional Chosŏn-ot dress, who also perform karaoke as well as song and dance routines in the style of the North Korean Mass Games for the customers. Government propaganda, pervasive in North Korea itself, is not overtly present in the restaurants, though photography is forbidden, which is why it’s quite rare that we’ve been allowed to do so.

Could it be because of charm? Certainly not my wit since none of the staff speak in English.

According to Swedish journalist Bertil Lintner, the restaurants are one of several overseas business ventures of Room 39, a North Korean government organization dedicated to acquiring and laundering foreign currency for the North Korean leadership.

North Korean defectors report that the restaurants are run by local middlemen who are required to pay between US$ 10,000 and US$30,000 each year to the North Korean government. The North Korean staff, who live on the restaurant premises, are said to be thoroughly screened for political loyalty and to be closely watched by on-site North Korean security agents.

Our guest, Philippine musician and advertising creative director Dennis Garcia, flew in recently and we took him to this ‘hidden treasure’ amidst the urban jungle of Jakarta. Dennis’ wife, Pam, is half-Korean and owns the oldest Korean Restaurant (Korea Garden) in the Philippines.

Jocs Pantastico, founder of LiveOlive, Kathy Quiano, CNN Bureau Chief, and Dennis Garcia

The sumptuous entree, of course, is nothing compared to the opportunity to “touch” a real North Korean. You know those hot Korean girls in Koreanovela? They’re nothing compared. 

And since the restaurant manager allowed me to have my pictures taken with her, I decided to torture her with my Instagram-skills.

Food is food, but, if this is the kind of girl who’d serve me food every day, I’d say, bring it on.

After this experience, you better start calling me, The Supreme Great Leader Mark Castro.

But just to impress upon you that I’m not as scary as the dead Kim Jong-il, I’m sharing with you peasants the chance to eat in this restaurant.

While you’re there, please pay for my bill.

Opening hours:
Everyday from 11am to 10pm
North Korean Restaurant Jakarta
Jalan Gandaria No.58, Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta
Phone:  +62-21 7280-0889
Fax: +62-21 7280-0885

About Asmartrock

N. Mark Castro is the Southeast Asia Director of JUMP DIGITAL Asia, which is an internationally-awarded and fully integrated digital marketing agency with 5 out of 10 offices in the ASEAN region. He is also the Secretary General of the Philippine Business Club Indonesia, managing and assisting the traffic of investments between the Philippines and Indonesia. He shuttles between Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Cambodia, and Australia. The views posted here are his own and do not in any way reflect the views of the companies he represents.

Posted on July 12, 2012, in Food, General and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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