North Korean restaurant - Pyongyang Okryu-gwan, Dubai

Have you been to a restaurant where upon walking in, you feel you are entering a place that overwhelms you with a sense of mystery? A place that has an aura about it that leaves you with so many questions, but politeness prevents you from asking them? A colorful place where you would love to take photographs, but the sign prohibiting the taking of photos is right in front of you? (on this occasion I was given permission to take photos of the food) If you visit the North Korean restaurant, Pyongyang Okryu-gwan  in Dubai, these could well be some of the feelings you may have. Even though this was my third to this restaurant, the feelings described above were very much with me.

Korea's contribution to the world of cutlery - metal chopsticks. 

North Korean cuisine is very similar to South Korean cuisine with a few dishes which are unique to both countries. But yes, the typical dishes you would find in a South Korean restaurant are here too: bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables and raw egg) BBQ bulgogi wrapped in lettuce leavesjeon ( savory pancake and its variations) and of course kimchi.

Firstly, the sense of mystery started when I called for directions again - I am clueless at remembering these things. I was asked which country I was from. Interesting I thought. How often has that happened to you? It really seems shrouded in secrecy, making it even more alluring.

Pine nut porridge.

Once you get close to the restaurant and see it in front of you, in retrospect you think, that it is not that hard to find. We were greeted at the door in that typical North East Asian pomp and ceremonial manner, and yet it was different. The thing that will strike you about the waitresses is the level of grace that they exude. Imagine stepping into an Audrey Hepburn movie where she is North Korean - that is the grace I am referring to. They are dressed in traditional North Korean dress very similar to the South Korean hanbok, known as choson-ot. Elegant. Because it is quite hot, some were dressed in smart two piece office style uniforms.

The waitresses are dressed in the chosot-on as in the pic. (not the waitresses - pic used to show the dress)
Once you get past this though, you feel the austere atmosphere. You notice the sign that asks you not to take photographs. In one corner you will see a table with North Korean memorabilia for sale: pictures, post cards. Enrapturing.The food here is incidental. This is an experience of culture.

Set lunch box
But it is a restaurant, so what about the food? On this occasion we were there for lunch, so we ordered a lunch box set that consisted of rice,  cold kimchi soup. kimchi pickles, stir fried beef and rice. In addition, we ordered the omurice, a dish that originated in Japan. It is essentially an omelette filled with rice, vegetables and meat. However, the most interesting dish ordered was the jat juk, which is a pine nut porridge. This is a very special dish with a smooth and heavy consistency, with a strong nutty taste. Not for everyone though.

Omurice or omelette rice. 
The service? Flawless.  The waitresses are really interesting. They have all graduated in the Arts from university and are able to play instruments. On our last visit at night, they performed some North Korean folk and pop songs, on guitars, drums and keyboards. Brilliant. Another interesting bit of information is that they arrived in Dubai with no English. A year later you can appreciate the hard work they have put into their English.  Finally, They seem genuinely fascinated to meet different people, and our waitress was totally overawed when we left a 10% tip for her.

Pyongyang Okyru-gwan is an enriching way to enjoy good food and get a slice of rich and equally enthralling culture. The food is as authentic as it comes, as there is a North Korean chef in the kitchen. If you enjoy Korean food, you will enjoy it here too. But forget about the food. This is a wonderful surreal experience that you have to try.  Surreal, but very nice.

The low down

Pyongyang Okryu-gwan
Deira, Dubai
04 298 1589
Meal for 3 about 200Dhs.