A taste of North Korea abroad: The strange world of Okryu-Gwan – National

If you’ve ever wanted to take a trip to North Korea to witness firsthand life inside the “hermit kingdom,” but were either afraid to go, or just weren’t sure how to get into the secretive nation without getting arrested, a visit to a North Korean restaurant might just be a feasible choice for now.

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That’s right: There are legit, North Korean restaurants in cities across the globe. Straight out of Pyongyang, the Okryu-Gwan chain of restaurants can be found in about a hundred locations around the world. The chain is named after what is believed to be the most famous of the handful of restaurants in North Korea’s capital.

Abroad it has become a curiosity to diners: equal parts diplomatic mission of sorts and a source of foreign currency for the North Korean government.

Each location is fully staffed by North Koreans and decorated with North Korean furnishings, which may or may not come with their own listening devices.

The restaurants are reportedly expected to pull in a minimum of US$100,000 a year selling the novelty of North Korea to the outside world.

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Although most locations are found in other Asian countries like Indonesia and China, there are a few operating in other cities outside Asia, including one in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai’s Okryu-Gwan restaurant is tucked away in a nondescript business park in the heart of the old city. From the outside, the signs appear to show an assortment of dishes common in any other Korean restaurant but stepping through the doors from the desert heat, it becomes clear that it’s anything but typical.

Crossing the threshold of the front door is like taking a step into an entirely different world. We were greeted by a smiling young woman in full traditional Korean dress, her sky blue and white dress finished with a name tag bearing the North Korean flag.

We were very quickly escorted through the throng of men all staring at us with keen interest. Turned out our group was actually the only group of non-North Koreans dining there at the time. We were shown to a private dining room safely away from the celebration that was about to start.

Once ensconced in the dining room that doubled as a karaoke room, the door was firmly shut behind us. We were left to admire the décor which included what looked like kitschy 1970s-esque felt pictures of mountains and red velvet banquet chairs. Moments later, music began and raucous singing of…

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