The interior of the restaurant looks akin to a modest family diner, but all things familiar end there. The recent and historic warming of North and South Korea’s diplomatic relations that saw both nation’s leaders hold hands as they crossed the border into each other’s countries makes this the perfect time to explore another crucial, but perhaps more subtle form of international diplomacy: Food.
Upon arrival, a small team of conservatively dressed waitresses descended upon us and gave us a menu with over four dozen signature North Korean dishes. These dishes are not commonly found elsewhere and North Korean food differs strongly from South Korean food in that it has far less sugar. This allows for amazing taste sensations.
For example, the chilled mung bean salad is a wonderful appetiser, full of noodles and Thai chillies with fried beef, mushrooms, veggies and seaweed, all tossed in a lovely sesame sauce.
We tried the barbecue beef ribs and barbecue pork ribs and received plates stuffed with tender meat in a fantastic Korean sauce with onions, roasted potatoes, green beans, a little spice and small chunks of carrots. Truly superb.
Next, we tried the cold jellyfish plate and were bowled over when our tastebuds discovered that this jellyfish is far more tender and high quality than its Thai counterpart. Served with a mild sauce, this was quite a comforting dish and we all agreed to have it again.
We were then delighted to try the kimchee dish. It had three delicious types of North Korean kimchee, the most interesting of which was a very mild white kimchee. This dish had some of the most delicate and balanced flavours of any dish we tried, aside from the jellyfish.
The spicy boiled pork was a delightful surprise. Served cold, it came with spring vegetables in a unique sauce that we had never tasted before.
But the most interesting dish of the night was unquestionably the Pyongyang cold noodles.
The dark brown noodles are served in a cold, red broth with chunks of marinated sweet-and-sour salmon. The noodles are mixed with precise amounts of vinegar and mustard for a delicious symphony of flavours that are generally not found in other Asian cuisines.
Sadly, we did not get to try everything in one evening.
The restaurant is equipped with table-top grills for traditional Korean barbecue and there were a number of interesting dishes that would have to wait until next time. The cucumber kimchee, black Pyongyang sausage, fried quail and fried beef with gingko nut all looked very interesting.
Evening performances featuring traditional North Korean instruments and dancing occur regularly. Although unadvertised and having to be discovered on foot, Pyongyang Okyru provided a dining experience that could easily go toe-to-toe with the very finest restaurants in Thailand.
If you decide to stop in for a cultural experience, remember that it’s a delicate time to discuss international affairs, so it is an evening for pleasure, food, and perhaps a little soju (the favoured beverage of North Korea).
In these tense political times, it pays to remember that food can cross cultural boundaries and unite people – something we would like to see more of these days.
Although there are a host of lunch specials, a normal dinner costs about B350 per person and is well-worth every penny. The Korean barbecue is usually about B600 per person. This is not inexpensive, but with nearly 50 rare dishes available it is certainly a delicious and educational experience.
So if you get a chance, pay a visit to Pyongyang Okyru on Sukhumvit Soi 25 in the heart of downtown Bangkok, a culinary experience like no other awaits.