Yep, that’s right. There is a North Korean restaurant in Dubai and we decided to try it!
As you may have worked out by now, Mummy and I do like a little bit of food sampling from time to time. Mostly we stick to things we know we like, but every now and again we hear about something fairly random that peaks our interest.
One of my coworkers had recently gone to Pyongyang Okryu-Gwan for dinner and had said some very positive things about it, so when I was making our itinerary/food tour guide, I had to include it. I never heard about the food, but the description of the live cabaret was more than enough to make me want to see more!We made our reservation with more ease than you would imagine and headed over to this out-of-the-way, cash only (only marginally dodgy sounding) restaurant in Deira. As a tip, take your Doris (satnav type thing) with you because you’re not finding it otherwise.
Despite it looking a little too much like a massage parlor, we were heartened to see a family of Koreans (with children!) heading in just before us. We had an 8pm reservation but actually arrived at 7.30pm. It turns out this is much preferable because the show starts at 8, but more about that later.
We walked in to a surprisingly well lit room with no Formica tables in sight! Most had tablecloths unless you were at the BBQ stations. Yep… a grill in the middle of the table. Shame we didn’t get to try that. Anyway, the music was courtesy of the Korean Karaoke which was just to the side of the stage, which had a painted back drop of what I assumed to be the mountains in Korea?
We were met and seated by a lovely lady, who was very kind to us. Embarrassingly I don’t remember her name. She was really good about my nut allergy which was a huge relief. I don’t think many nuts are used in Korean cooking but it’s always a fear.
I think it became incredibly obvious very quickly that we had absolutely NO clue what we were doing and so she took pity on us and helped us out with the menu.
Inside was a lovely description of, well, I think the restaurant that started it all? And then a bit on the Dubai version. It was in Korean and English, but I think it had been a literal translation. It gave you an idea though which was interesting. I like to know how things come about.
I took a few pictures of the menu pages themselves as I am always interested in pictures of food, and also the different languages especially when the text is so different. I also thought ahead and thought that you all could see some of the options too!
I will say though that the waitress lady pointed out were things we had already decided on. I had done a little research while waiting for a taxi that night, so I was all impressed with myself. Yay me!!
I will also say that she thankfully stopped us from ordering everything we thought we would as she thought we had too much. She couldn’t have been more accurate! The portions are huge and we ordered enough for at least 4 people. Probably more if they were those strange people who don’t eat much.
While we were waiting for our food to arrive, they bought over ‘rice cakes’. These were a gelatinous disc and had a little sweet hint to them. They mostly didn’t taste of anything but I still quite liked them. They were also good when dunked in to things like soy sauce.
First up from our picks was the “Fried Egg Dumpling”.
I thought these would come out all small like normal Chinese dumplings. Nope. They were more pasty sized. The filling was a kind of sweet omelette, and then the outside of the dumplings were crisped up. They sound a little odd but they were in fact absolutely delicious and we were happy there were so many!
They also bought over a green pepper pancake randomly. I don’t think we ordered it but who knows! It was kind of forgettable, but I liked the texture of the edges especially.
We ordered the ‘Beef BBQ’ as the main dish.
It would normally be cooked at the table in the BBQ pit, as we later discovered. It was cooked for us in the kitchen this time though as we ordered too close to show time.
The beef was served with Kos lettuce leaves. You had a soybean paste (I think?) that you had to spread into the leaf, then load it up with beef, and dunk in the soy sauce before you took a bite. It’s a bit of a faffy process, but well worth it. It was delicious. All the flavours beautifully combine, and you had a fresh crunch from the lettuce leaf.
I have a little confession to add at this point though. I knowingly ordered the next dish knowing it was one to share and also knowing that I couldn’t share it with Mum because she has a seafood allergy. I will, in my defense, say that I had seen pictures and it looked delicious.
May I present the “Seafood Pancake”.
I have no clue if this is a traditional thing or not, but I do know it was my favourite of everything we tried.
It was basically a bunch of shredded veggies (no clue which!) with some prawns, crab sticks, and calamari topping it. It was then doused in some form of tempura batter and fried. Amaze. Nothing was soggy. The seafood was perfectly cooked so not dry or chewy. The batter was light and fluffy. AND, it wasn’t overly greasy!
What a superb dish. I highly recommend this one!!
(I also deny any/all knowledge of the accusation that I ate the majority of it.)
Surprisingly, or not so much probably, I haven’t finished telling you about the food!
The second to last dish was ‘Pyongyang Cold Noodle’.
This isn’t as terrible as you would think. That said, cold noodles are never going to be awesome. It was in a soy sauce beef type broth. and topped with kimchi, beef, onions, and goodness knows what else. Oh yes… the random half of a boiled egg. I just remembered that thanks to the photo!
I mixed it all up and gave it a go. The flavour was really good but the cold noodles just are a little too slimy for my tastes. And Mum’s. She really didn’t like them at all. I would have them again if I was with people who wanted to try them because they weren’t horrible. They just weren’t my thing.
Mum did like the last dish though! Kimchi fried rice.
This is exactly as it sounds. Fried rice with kimchi – which is a very popular salted and fermented vegetable dish. It’s usually quite spicy though but this was mild. There was another egg on top of this (as you can see!), and again I’m not sure why but I’ve seen it a few times in Asian food so I guess it’s a thing!
As the last of the food was placed at the table, the waitress ran off at break neck speed as it turns out the waitresses are the cabaret act too!
They started off all singing what I assume was a well known North Korean song. I can only guess though as I have no clue what it was all about. They all sang well and they looked super cute in their sparkly tops!
Two of them then nipped off and left this lovely lass playing the accordion while her friend accompanied her on the keyboards.
It was all a bit random and didn’t feel hugely traditional until our pretty new friend came on stage in a stunning red traditional gown, and sang some kind of operatic folksy type song. Once again we had no clue what she was singing about but we were transported to a different place with the sound. It was so different and eerie, but comforting too. It was enough for me to stop picking at the seafood pancake so I could give her all my attention.
Following this, we had some traditional dance which was fascinating.
Then onto a karaoke version of “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. Only half way through the singing stopped and she played the flute instead. Not really sure what that was about but actually the flute is one of my favourite sounds and instead of being strange and confusing, it was soothing and haunting, just as the flute should be.
The last act of the half hour set was all the ladies back on the stage with various instruments. From what my coworker had told me I had imagined them to be props to an 80’s sounding Korean pop song, but actually they all played them properly and had a little solo each to prove as much.
They received as best round of applause as we could muster and seemed genuinely thrilled with it. It was indeed one of the strangest but best experiences I have had in Dubai.
We eventually got through as much food as we could and paid the bill. All that food plus 7ups and water came to AED 290. I don’t think that’s bad at all, and had it been a table of four which is how many people would have been needed to finish it all, it would have been a bargain!
I would absolutely go back and highly recommend this restaurant to anyone. Not only was the service friendly and understanding of the ‘foreignness’ of the menu, but the food was delicious and plentiful. If you need any more convincing, just think about it… how many countries in the world would you be able to go to and try the cuisine of a nation that is so sequestered?