15-21 January 2016 #791

Korea Pyongyang Arirang Restaurant

Despite only basic items being available due to fuel shortages, what was available was delicious
Someplace Else by Seulki Lee

“Excuse me, the cold noodle dish is not available at the moment,” interjected our waitress as we perused the menu at Korea Pyongyang Arirang Restaurant in Darbar Marg last Friday. “There is no gas to cook and boil the meat broth for soup.”

This news struck with great disappointment, as the Pyongyang cold noodle is an authentic delicacy that only a North Korean restaurant can offer in Kathmandu.

North Korean cold noodle, or raengmyeon, is a dish made with long, thin handmade buckwheat, kudzu or potato noodles in a tangy iced broth. The dish became popular throughout the Korean peninsula after the 1950-1953 Korean War, as refugees from the North brought their tradition southward. Ironically, the cold noodle is a specialty dish for the winter season in Korea, as per the Korean saying “fight fire with fire; fight ice with ice.”

PICS: SEULKI LEE

Luckily another Korean specialty, kimchi, chilli-spiced pickled cabbage and radish, was available as it is made to keep for at least a year, in all seasons and conditions. The difference in kimchi between North and South is the taste. The northern variety is characteristic for its clean taste; it retains the original flavour of the ingredients akin to many other dishes in North Korea, while its Southern counterpart uses rich sauces with seafood. The kimchi at Pyongyang Arirang Restaurant, the Kathmandu franchise of the worldwide chain, was as clean as I tasted in other branches in Jakarta and Vientiane.

However, the similarities with those previous experiences ended with the dull ambience and the churlish service. The first greeting in the darkness of the restaurant’s hall was the question: “Are you from Chosun?” meaning ‘are you from Korea?’ After I answered affirmatively, the restaurant’s rules and restrictions followed: no photo taking of the menu, food and the interior of the restaurant. Additionally, due to fuel shortages, only basic items were available out of the eight-page menu.

Despite the unpleasant restrictions, dim lighting and the brusque service, the food was delicious. The bibimbap and Pyongyang kimchi made up for the strange dining experience my Australian colleague and I had at the restaurant.

If asked whether I’d go back there again, I’d answer: “Yes, but I just need to first ready my heart to face a bit of wariness.”

How to get there: Korea Pyongyang Arirang Restaurant is located in Darbar Marg on the lane leading towards Hotel Yak and Yeti.

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