North Korea — Food and Restaurants
Dining out at a restaurant of your choice isn’t an option in North Korea, as all visitors’ meals are included in your tour package at designated places included in the itinerary. Evening entertainment in the form of cultural events promoting the revolutionary stance of the country may be provided, but nightlife is scarce as visitors are not allowed to explore without their guides and need permission to leave their hotel outside of a prearranged trip.
North Korea does experience severe food shortages, but visitors will have no problem being fed while in the country as the designated guide will pre-order all meals.
Bars and Pubbing in North Korea
A maximum of four hotels in Pyongyang are designated as tourist hotels, and their bars and discos are as close as you will get to North Korean nightlife outside of the Diplomats’ Club (Pyongyang), which is normally empty but advertises karaoke nights. The Yanggakdo Hotel (Taedong River Island, Pyongyang) has a small disco playing Western music and is usually packed with Chinese tourists. It also has a casino, although locals are not permitted entry. The island itself features a running track for health-conscious visitors, a mini-golf course, a bowling alley, billiard tables, and a heated swimming pool.
The Ryanggang Hotel (Chongchun Street, Pyongyang) is the second option for an evening out, located a short drive from downtown. The Soviet–style hotel has fewer eating, drinking and entertainment options, but recent additions include the Koryo Hotel (Pyongyang), a Soviet journey back to the 1970's complete with karaoke bar in the basement and views of North Korean life through the windows. The Youth Hotel (Chilgol-dong, Pyongyang) has a bar, but is not recommended outside of high summer visits as the heating doesn’t work.
Dining and Cuisine in North Korea
Korean cuisine is generally based on rice, meat and vegetables, with its signature dish the extremely hot and spicy kimchee, or fermented vegetables. Ingredients include sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, pepper flakes, fermented bean paste, and red chili paste. Soy beans are used for tofu and bean sprouts are cooked as nourishing vegetables, with mung beans another staple. Beef, chicken, pork, and seafood are the main protein options, and visiting dog-lovers should make sure they’re not eating the summer stews made with man’s best friend.
Travelers to North Korea will not have the freedom to choose their own restaurant or even the dish they'll be consuming. However, the tourist hotels in Pyongyang usually have a choice of eateries, at least one of which will be located on a high floor giving an unusual view of the city in comparative darkness after sunset. It’s all part of the North Korean experience, and all guides will arrange at least one meal in a designated, approved independent restaurant.
Traditional Korean favorites such as barbecued duck are available along Sariwon Street in Pyongyang’s embassy district. If you find yourself in Kaesong, one of the best rated is the Tongil Restaurant (across from Kaesong Folk Hotel, Kaesong), praised for its selection of small dishes called pansanggi. While traveling around the country on your guided tour, you’ll enjoy a variety of different regional cuisines, many of which are based on ancient recipes.