SEOUL, South Korea – You still can't get a hamburger in Pyongyang, but the suspiciously similar "minced beef and bread" is for sale at the North Korean capital's first fast-food restaurant, a news report said Saturday.
The Samtaeseong restaurant opened in the isolated communist country last month in cooperation with a Singaporean company, according to the Tokyo-based Choson Sinbo. The Singaporean company, which the newspaper did not name, provided training to restaurant staff and supplied equipment.
The restaurant's interior appears to be styled after fast-food joints the world over, but the menu is careful not to call its signature fare a hamburger — lest it give the impression North Koreans had embraced the American icon.
North Korea's authoritarian government is concerned that outside influences could undermine the regime and pose a threat to leader Kim Jong Il's tight grip on the nation of 24 million. It balks at using foreign words and coins alternatives in Korean instead.
But this is not the government's first foray into foreign food. In March, the Choson Sinbo, widely considered a mouthpiece for the North Korean government, reported that Kim — a noted gourmand — had ordered the opening of the country's first Italian restaurant. The chefs there were trained in Italy and food made with imported ingredients was served.
The restaurants are unlikely to be frequented by ordinary people in North Korea, which is one of the world's poorest countries and experiences chronic food shortages.
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.
The restaurant also offers kimchi — Korean pickled cabbage — as well as waffles and draft beer. It plans to add croissants and hot dogs to its menu in the coming months but with Korean names, and will open another branch in the capital soon, according to the newspaper.