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Posted by on Jul 26, 2009 in Commentary, Korean Culture | 0 comments

North Korea opens fast food restaurant in Pyongyang

North Korea opens fast food restaurant in Pyongyang

The Choson Sinbo reports that the reclusive North Korean government is opening a fast food restaurant in Pyongyang. This could be funny, except that this pseudo-western restaurant is going out of its way to pretend that it’s not a pseudo-western restaurant.

Samtaeseong’s menu will be difficult for western tourists to interpret since they changed the name of the iconic hamburger to “minced beef with bread”. All the western style menu items will be given Korean names so the North Korean government can pretend they are free of outside influence while they unabashedly accept food handouts from South Korea, Japan, the USA and other outsiders.

The Dong-A Ilbo elaborates:

The menu offers diced “minced beef and bread (hamburger),” “baked and frizzled bread (waffle), minced flatfish and bread, vegetables and bread, and a meal of mixed foods including minced beef, bread, potato porridge and kimchi. Beverages include soda and “Kumkang fresh beer.”

Another point, fast food is supposed to be cheap food, yet according to the Choson Sinbo article, the “minced beef with bread” dish costs $1.70, which is 50% of the take-home pay of the average North Korean. Or as the Associated Press (AP) said,

The minced beef and bread at the new fast-food restaurant costs only $1.70, the newspaper said, but that would eat up more than half of the average North Korean’s daily income. South Korea’s central bank put last year’s average per capita income at $1,065.

Think of it another way. The average American makes approximately $24 per hour, or $50,000 per year (based on an 8 hour work day). Would any American in his right mind pay $96 for a basic hamburger? Yet, that’s what this restaurant is asking its patrons. Of course, the well-off Pyongyang-ites will pay up for the sake of their Dear Leader, wouldn’t they?

However, there seems to be a discrepancy here. The Dong-A Ilbo’s coverage of this same restaurant indicates the menu is more reasonably priced (at least officially).

Prices there are said to be affordable. A hamburger costs 190 won (15 U.S. cents) and a glass of beer 76 won (six cents), cheap given that a kilogram of rice costs 1,900 won (15 dollars) in North Korea.

Despite its affordability, the restaurant is inaccessible by most North Koreans because an admission ticket is needed to enter. Such tickets are being traded on the black market at prices higher than face value.

Did the AP article factor in the price of the admission ticket into its calculation of the costs of the meal? If so, that’s fair but they should point that out in their article.

The Dong-A Ilbo goes on to say,

Since only those with deep pockets can keep eating out, however, such restaurants have become a symbol of the gap between the haves and have nots.

I thought the point of a communist society was to eliminate distinctions in class and income? Sounds like Animal Farm all over again.

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

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