PICS: MARCO POLO
Open 365 days a year—unless of course the supreme leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea dies—the Nepali branch of Pyongyang Okryu-Gwan in Darbar Marg is not just a karaoke bar but a bona fide Korean eatery that in some ways surpasses its southern counterparts in Kathmandu.
For a few days last week, the North Korean satellite of the original Okryu-Gwan, founded in 1960 in Pyongyang, closed shop to mourn the late ruler. But since then, it's business as usual at Okryu-Gwan, where North Korean exports are not limited to cold noodles; the franchise (with exclusive branches in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Mongolia, Russia and the UAE) imports its own powdered-faced waitresses, educated at schools of commerce and culinary arts, from the north side of the 38th parallel.
Dining at Okryu-Gwan is like sitting at an old-school canteen in a Soviet canton. Anodyne tapestries of horses and tigers (hand-embroidered in North Korea our server boasted) hang on the walls. And on the far end sits a stage with a widescreen television, where at 1pm and 8pm daily (apart from load shedding) the servers take turns at karaoke—synthesizers, cheesy montages and all. But if you're lucky, you'll dine in the privacy of a norebang or karaoke room.
Okryu-Gwan's menu is extensive including rice cakes, cold plates, casseroles and seafood imports like eel. Common Korean staples from North and South are present like kimchi, bibimbap, and bulgogi.
Like Picnic there are no cook-it-yourself items on the menu, despite the advertised plates of raw meats and seafood to choose from. Nevertheless, the bulgogi, or barbecued slices of beef, came well marinated and well done on a skillet with a side of lettuce leaves, raw garlic and onion.
It's deducible that the rise in Korean restaurants coincides with a wave of South Korean Christian missionaries in Nepal. But the phenomenon doesn't explain why Pyongyang decided to build an outlet in Kathmandu. Whatever the reason, Okryu-Gwan affords a rare taste of North Korean cuisine and hospitality.
Off Darbar Marg, adjacent to the Yak and Yeti main entrance