Having been a royal capital for over 500 years, Kaesong has a highly developed cuisine with a presentation style fit for royalty.
Our meal at the Kaesonng Folk Custom Hotel was a traditional Royal Pansanggi banquet consisting of numerous dishes each presented in a small metal bowl. While my first picture shows 11 dishes per person, additional dishes provided during the meal brought the number to over 13, the number traditionally served to royalty.
The dishes served, with an emphasis on vegetarian, included fish, fried eggs, beansprout salad, dumplings, kimchi, cucumber, pickles, bean curd jelly and stewed beef, with rice served at the end.
The serving of rice at the end of a meal was standard practice everywhere we ate. I found it frustrating and annoying, as I like to eat my rice as part of my meal. The reason it is served at the end is that it is seen as a space filler to be eaten only after you have enjoyed the main components of the meal.
In addition to the usual beer and water we had as a part of all meals, here soju, a traditional Korean rice wine, was also served. While most of the group didn’t rate it highly I found it quite drinkable – perhaps this says more about me than the soju?
The highlight (though for most it turned out the lowlight – if that is a word) of the meal for many of the group was to be a rich soup known as ‘Gaejangguk’ (which cost an additional 5 Euro). While it includes numerous ingredients the one of interest to those ordering it was dog.
While I do not take the moral high ground and decry people eating dog (in cold hard terms what makes it different to eating any other animal?) I personally will not order it (though I have tasted it elsewhere) given that I, like many readers I imagine, see dogs as somewhat special and cannot imagine eating my own pet!
Traditionally Gaejangguk, or dog meat soup, is a seasonal dish served only on the three hottest days of the year. It is believed to protect the recipient from sunstroke or dizziness caused by the heat.
Few of those who ate it in our group would have it again. One of those things you should try once was the general conclusion.
Deserts served with our meals in North Korea were, in general, remarkably unremarkable and unmemorable. But this evening things were different as one of our group was celebrating his birthday.
Two beautiful cakes appeared. They had been brought down from Pyongyang and were delicious, not at all like normal Asian attempts at western style cakes. There must be a French patisserie hidden away somewhere in Pyongyang. A challenge for my next visit!
The cakes were undoubtedly the highlight of the meal. While the meal itself was beautifully presented and it was nice (though at times painful for a long legged western) to eat it from a low table while seated on the ground, the food was average.
The lights went out a couple of times during the meal but that was not remarkable, in itself, and the situation was quickly saved by torches which we carried for such an eventuality.
Traditionally in restaurant reviews we say whether we would eat in a restaurant again or not. In that regard I will say yes (more for the non-food experience/atmosphere than for the food) but add that if you are staying at the hotel you will have no choice in the matter, this being North Korea.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on my visit to Kaesong, North Korea. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Tomb of King Kongmin – or to start this loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – North Korea’s win from the Korean War.