Seeing as I live in Shenyang, a city in northern China that is only a stone's throw from the North Korean border, I got this evening about as close as I'll ever realistically get to Pyongyang this evening - without needing a visa, that is.
I was invited by a couple of Chinese friends for dinner at a place near the city center calling itself "Korean Barbecue". Yes, that's the name of the restaurant, in 10-foot high neon letters .
Greeting us at the front door of the Nanjing Road establishment were two young Chinese men in fairly authentic North Korean military dress uniforms. Kinda freaked me out at first. Ya know? The only thing missing was a portrait of Kim Il Sung on the wall (a picture of Kim Jr. would have put me off my meal).
Even the guy who came to take away the coals was dressed in fatigues and had dyed blond hair and looked a little like Rick Yune in Die Another Day, where 007 sneaks into North Korea by high-tech surf boards.
The staff were quite good at explaining the menu in English and Chinese and even Korean, but one thing they failed to mention was that the soup I ordered, normally made with pork, this time contained dog. Yes, that's right, dog. Uh huh. Lassie. Bowser. Man's best friend. Etc. Mind you, this was only casually mentioned by one of my dining companions, "oh, by the way, that's dog you just took a bite of."
Needless to say, I stuck with the beef (bulgogi) BBQ.Afterwards (and sometimes during the meal) the staff brought us dessert, which consisted of sliced watermelon, melon ice cream, and some little fried bits of dough liberally coated in sugar. Midway through the meal they brought us damp towels, which I think you actually use before the eating starts (or after, I think).On the way out the door the immaculately attired North Korean soldier turned waiter gave us some fake Wrigley's "peppermint" chewing gum.
I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone who loves Korean food (including the occasional canine - the sign outside should be a poster for that John Cusack movie, which by the way is already on DVD at Walmart here), or has a good command of Chinese, and dosen't mind attentive staff to the point of being slightly overbearing. I had a good experience, if nothing else for the atmosphere and some good bibimbap.
****NEW CONTENT, APRIL 2006****
One of the best meals I had in China was at a Brazilian restaurant (the name of which I cannot recall) on south Nanjing Road, Shenyang, in September of 2005. This is one of those places where the waiters come around to your table with meat on skewers and slice off large portions on to your plate. I had some fantastic beef, lamb and roasted chicken. There was also a quite comprehensive salad bar featuring various fresh and cooked vegetables, soup, and assorted types of sushi (including kimbap). The highlight of the meal had to have been the beer, freshly brewed on the premises.
While having my meal, a man came over to my table and introduced himself. He turned out to be Australian and had been in Shenyang visiting in-laws with his local wife and their daughter. Turns out they had been entertaining family in the restaurant since sometime early that afternoon, and he was eager to talk to have someone to speak to in English finally. I was equally desperate for conversation with a native English speaker, after nearly a month working in a Chinese-only company. Over a pitcher of beer, which he described as "bloody good brew, mate", he told me which items were good and which to avoid (he didn't need to tell me to avoid the chicken livers or fish balls, though). He turned out to run his own upholstery shop back in Oz, though he struck me more as a sheep herder or rancher. Nice fellow, anyways. And good company during the meal. While we talked, his half-Chinese daughter ran all over the restaurant, playing and being spoiled by the staff, who kept remarking on her cuteness. He said that is a problem, bringing young children with you to Asia, they get so spoiled and treated like princes/princesses that when they return to the "West" there's some major counter-culture shock for the youngsters.
Afterwards, I said goodbye to my new friend and his family, and departed - no need to pay the bill, I had already paid in advance, even though it was a sit-down restaurant - this was something the staff insisted on. Maybe they've seen too many people eat and drink their fill and then run out on their tab.Another interesting dining experience was at Pizza Hut, which is in the Heiping District on one of the major shopping streets (coincidentally, right next door to Wal-Mart). This is a more formal sit down experience, with soft lighting, nice decorations, and an line to get a seat - must be popular! One Chinese girl, Helen, a coworker of mine I had dinner with here remarked, "I get the feeling this place is mostly just for foreigners" at which I had her look around the room at the predominately Chinese clientele. The pizza was good, there was a salad bar (one trip only so make sure to load up the first time), and imported beer in bottles. Not somewhere I'd eat all the time, but good for a little treat once in a while.