Food & Drink

Eat and be wary— Jakarta


Strung out across Southeast Asia is a chain of restaurants where doll-like North Korean waitresses sing to diners as they sample the country’s cuisine (well, what’s left of it). Is it a benign culinary business foray or something altogether more sinister?

Moscow Grimaces!, Pyongyang Restaurant, The Double Kay Bar, The Hallyday Inn, The Yokel's Fists

For what I’d imagined to be a faceless servant of the Dear Leader, the woman who picks up the phone at the North Korean Embassy is bewilderingly chipper. Are the rumours true, I ask. Is North Korea running a restaurant in Jakarta? “Yes,” she replies. Can just anyone turn up? “Sure.” Are the staff really shipped in from North Korea? Do they really dance for us, in unison, while singing karaoke? “Of course,” she says, her voice sliding into a ribald whine, like a Stalinist bordello madam. “We’ve got pretty, pretty girls.”

For most outsiders, a sta…

On the menu

North Korea’s restaurants tend to serve seasonal food that is free of foreign influences and the sweeter, spicier and sourer tastes that have changed South Korean cooking. “Koreans keep going back because they can’t get food like that anymore in South Korea,” says Lee Kang-hyeon, our translator and a Jakarta-based food reviewer.

The popular bulgogi barbecue is available but the signature dishes are mandu (pork or chicken dumplings), naengmyeon (a Pyongyang dish of cold mixed buckwheat noodles in broth), bosingtang (dog meat soup) and sundae (pigs’ blood and noodle sausages). Kimchi pickled cabbage is of course a staple but is milder than its South Korean variant. North Korean dishes are often relatively bland, with the flavour packed into sauces. Tradition states that people follow the seasons when eating, to maintain balance in the body: hot food during summer and cold food, such as naengmyeon, during winter.

Unlikely national restaurant ideas

The Hallyday Inn
France’s answer to the Hard Rock Café – nightspots enshrining the rich, vigorous history of French rock’n’roll. These small venues will be decorated with artefacts pertaining to such greats as, erm, Vanessa Paradis, Mano Negra and Plastic Bertrand, who was Belgian, but anyway. Each outlet will feature a jukebox, crammed full of French rock’n’roll, which will only be switched on at closing time.

Moscow Grimaces!
A permanent global circuit for all the performers who’ve earnt Russian comedy the reputation it enjoys the world over. Laugh along to all your favourite Russian jokes, including “My wife’s gone to the West Indies.” “Jamaica?” “No, it was a man from the government who assigned her to the embassy in Havana.” And “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “The FSB. Come along quietly.” Avoid the sushi.

The Double K Bar
Franchise inspired by the figureheads of Iran’s Islamic revolution, Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei. May have some difficulty obtaining entertainment licence due to a house policy of refusing to admit inspectors. But may get around this by pointing to house rules barring alcohol, women, music, dancing and gambling and noting that nobody would be in much danger of being entertained.

The Yokel’s Fists
Chain offering an authentic recreation of a traditional English pub. Featuring flat, warm beer, the world’s worst wine, risibly overpriced and terrible food, eye-watering flat screens affixed to every vertical surface, worryingly adhesive carpets, thunderous pop dross drowning out the grunting of fellow patrons, resentful staff, hostile locals – and, for the fortunate, the chance of the traditional fare-thee-well of a pint glass cracked ceremoniously across their forehead.


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