Eating North Korea

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Okryugwan – Dubai Chapter

As I wind down this most recent visit to Dubai I’ve been really trying to get into the spirit of things, namely by consuming as much as possible. In my regular down-to-earth Canadian life I’m ethically opposed to over-consumption. But as they say, “when in Rome”. As a result, this has been a trip of reserved excess. Reserved because I’m not on vacation and therefore cannot simply surrender to the siren’s song of consumerism.  Reserved also because my consumption is, I like to think, an aesthetic one, which is to say it’s a slightly elevated experience than the all you can eat breakfast buffet or the tour bus that shuttles the British seniors between the hotel, Jumeira Beach, and Dubai Mall.

Yes, the only defense against the mundane is to put on an air of self-importance. This too I learned over the weeks, which seems like years, in Dubai. What’s the point of all this you might ask? Well, the point is precisely this: North Korea has a restaurant called Okryugwan which is apparently a global chain and the have a branch in Dubai and this is what Wikipedia said of it:

“Okryugwan has various branches throughout China, which help the North Korean government to earn badly needed foreign exchange. Okryugwan is thus well-known even in South Korea. Each restaurant is reportedly required to remit US$100,000 to US$300,000 to Pyongyang per year, depending on local conditions.”

The tour buses are sadly not stopping here. But as responsible global citizens and sympathetic to the Great Leader’s need for foreign exchange (who doesn’t want to diversify their cash flow?) – and more importantly, people curious as hell about a North Korean chain restaurant, we simply had to give it a go. We proclaimed yesterday as Great Leader Appreciation Day to make it more festive. Strangely enough, I was the only person out of our party of 5 who had any real experience with Korean cuisine (shout outs to my peeps at Paldo Gangsan Toronto!). As a result, I think I was the only one who realized that North Korean cuisine is pretty much what my friends and I back home like to call, “Korean food”. We ordered a variety of dishes and as we ate the reality of the situation in North Korea was not lost on us. The thought that kept creeping into my head was, “This has gotta be soft power gone wrong.”

The Experience

They ask your nationality when you make a reservation. Not sure what the wrong answer is, but so far I can confirm Norwegian and Canadian are ok. Overall though the ladies that worked there were lovely and hospitable. It was a strange experience though because everything is perfectly orchestrated, from the woman dressed in traditional costume guarding the door, to the impeccable manners of the wait staff, to how they insist on walking you to the bathroom. The experience is diminished by reports that potential defectors and asylum seekers working at the restaurant risk punishment on their families back home.

They claim most of the food is imported from North Korea…which I sincerely hope is not the case (how about feeding your people first?). Below are images of what we ate. Pretty basic stuff if you know Korean food.

Cabbage Kim Chi

Cabbage Kim Chi

Marinated Raw Beef

Marinated Raw Beef

Mixed Mushrooms

Mixed Mushrooms

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Braised Beef

Ox tail soup

Ox tail soup

 

Sideways view of cold noodles

Sideways view of cold noodles

 

What happened after the meal was totally unexpected…cue karaoke night. Yes, we were the only ones in the restaurant and we ended up having special juice singing terrible renditions of songs ranging from the Backstreet Boys to yours truly belting out Eminem’s Stan to the applause of our sweet and very hospitable hostesses. Internal ethical considerations aside I would highly recommend going to Okryugwan. It’s definitely an experience to remember.

First song of the night.

First song of the night.

Strangely fun.

Strangely fun.

 

For more about Okryugwan see:

http://www.npr.org/2010/12/31/132491605/dubai-restaurant-offers-a-taste-of-north-korea

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/asia-pacific/n-korea-serves-up-everything-but-politics-in-deira

http://www.fastcompany.com/1713872/karaoke-espionage-haute-cuisine-adventures-north-korean-governments-restaurant-chain

Dubai, where the theme is more, More, MORE!

Lalla A. Essaydi. Harem #1, Triptych, Chromogenic Print, 2000.

Lalla A. Essaydi. Harem #1, Triptych, Chromogenic Print, 2000.

Alright, here’s a less lazy post about the past two days of running around to final Art Dubai events and the start of the first annual Dubai Festival of Lights. I managed to hit the second hall of galleries at Art Dubai that I missed the first time around when I got distracted by opulence and booze. Some great photo-based works were on view (see below). I also attended the Global Art Forum discussion 1955-2055: A Documenta Century. I was pretty pumped for this talk as the conversants on the panel was impressive:

Catherine David (Art historian and independent curator), Okwui Enwezor (Director, Haus der Kunst and Director of the Visual Arts Sector of the 56th Biennale di Venezia, 2015), Adam Szymczyk (Director, Kunsthalle Basel and Artistic Director of documenta 14, 2017). Hosted by Hans Ulrich Obrist (Curator, Co-director of Exhibitions and Programmes and Director of International Projects, Serpentine Gallery).” For description of talk go here.

Getting ready for some art talk at the Global Art Forum, Art Dubai 2014.

Getting ready for some art talk at the Global Art Forum, Art Dubai 2014.

My enthusiasm, however, dissipated pretty quickly. The topic of discussion was totally appropriate to the Fair and the subject of global art exhibitions has been of great interest to me since I was an undergrad. The problem for me was Hans Ulrich Obrist’s facilitation style. His introduction was over-long and it wasn’t so much a discussion as interview segments with a group of people on stage. It was clear that each  curator (including Hans) has their own unique personality and style. There were momentary glimpses of Catherine David’s French intellectual haughtiness (which was amusing and bemusing), Okwui Enwezor’s wit and sense of humour, and Adam Szymczyk‘s thoughtfulness. It could have been a great discussion if the participants were given the opportunity to actually discuss and respond to each other in a more organic conversational style. What resulted was, in my view, a rather convoluted dialogue about each individual’s experience of Documenta. The take away was basically, Documenta is important and interesting, but so are a lot of things. *shrugs shoulders*

Art Dubai 2014 – Round 2

Here’s my most recent image dump of things I saw at the Fair and a couple from the Festival of Lights, just because.

Loved this series of works on display at the Experimenter Kolkata booth by Hajra Waheed. Really simple, but innovative display style brought the images to life.

Hajra Waheed, 2014

Hajra Waheed, 2014

Hajra Waheed, 2014

Hajra Waheed, 2014

Hajra Waheed, 2014

Hajra Waheed, 2014

 

I also enjoyed the work at the Kalfayan Galleries booth by Lebanese artist Raed Yassin. His embroidered “photographs” are created from memories of family photographs that were lost or destroyed over years of upheaval in Lebanon. An interesting exploration of memory, loss and nostalgia.

Raed Yassin

Raed Yassin

I’ve seen Yassin’s Chinese porcelain works previously in random art publications and really love the amount of detail he puts into each scene. I liked the tension created between the polished surface of the delicate vessels and the images of violence depicted on them.

Raed Yassin

Raed Yassin

Raed Yassin

Raed Yassin

 

These large scale photographs by Atta Kim are part of the Korean artists On-Air project series. They were taken with long exposures on a large format 8 x 10 camera. It’s a simple technique, but the prints are beautiful and the images are quite elegant with traces of movement here and there.

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Atta Kim, On-Air Projects – Prague

Atta Kim, On-Air Projects - New York (detail)

Atta Kim, On-Air Projects – New York (detail)

 

And last, but in now way the least, the big excitement of the day was when H.H. Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai appeared to check out some of the art.

HH Sheikh Mohammed touring Art Dubai 2014.

HH Sheikh Mohammed touring Art Dubai 2014.

 

Oh, and this is a nice scene from Dubai Festival of Lights. Basically it’s eye candy for people roaming around Downtown Dubai. Think giant light fixtures and projection mapping on buildings.

Dubai Festival of Lights, 2014

Dubai Festival of Lights, 2014

 

A feast for the senses at Art Dubai 2014

Well, it’s taken me almost three months to write my first post of 2014. Most of this year has been spent in Dubai living in a hotel room, working out of a construction trailer and eating cheap, delicious and plentiful Indian and Middle Eastern food in old town Bur Dubai. After slumming it for the past week I had the opportunity to attend Art Dubai 2014 with some friends for the Jumeira Patron’s Preview. March is a great time to be in the Emirate and Art Dubai is billed as THE EVENT OF THE SEASON (yes, you have to speak like this if you want to fit in). It was definitely a feast for the senses.

In between free flowing bubbly, foie gras and macaroons I managed to get some snaps of some interesting works of art. Unfortunately I got so carried away with people watching, chitchatting and sampling some of the finer things in life that I managed to miss an entire hall of art. Ooops. Still, no regrets so peep this!

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