Food

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

Canada Day Wknd Love for YVR

Neon Vancouver Ugly Vancouver installation view (Museum of Vancouver)

Neon Vancouver Ugly Vancouver installation view (Museum of Vancouver)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well it’s Canada Day Long Weekend and I can’t think of a better way to commemorate the occasion than by giving a shout out to the beautiful city of Vancouver. Although nightlife is a bit wanting, there’s an abundance of places to eat.

If you’re in Vancouver this weekend and are lookin’ for some places to chow down these are the places I ate at last week when I was in town for a consulting gig. All highly recommended:

Kishimoto: Amazing sushi at great prices. Can’t find the like in TO unless you’re going super high end (#snore).

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Suika Snackbar: Awesome izakaya food with really good house cocktails. They’re the people who brought Kingyo to TO.

The Oakwood: I started with  the flight of Canadian whiskies and a beer and don’t really remember what I ate, but it was delicious and the service was friendly and encouraging.

Flight of Canadian Whiskies with requisite pint.

Flight of Canadian Whiskies with requisite pint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chewies: OYSTERS! Fried Okra. Super juicy fried chicken that would make Paula Deen proud (minus the racial controversy).

For a taste of the good old YVR in the big old YYZ I’d recommend Guu and Kingyo for izakaya cravings and Santouka for decent ramen.

 

 

#WhiskeyFriday & MRE Saturday

My fellow people. Today’s the day. My first foray into the fascinating world of MREs. The nondescript utilitarian brown package that contains the “most technically advanced food in the world”. If you’ve been following along you might be wondering why now? Why in the name of delicious brunch places in TO are you opting, on a Saturday, at prime brunching hour, to dive into MRE wonderland? You’re also probably wondering how it tastes? Let me tell you. But before I do, remember that episode of the Simpsons called Homerpalooza?

Remember when he was driving the carpool and was teaching the kids how to rock n’ roll like a goddamn king?

That’s exactly how I felt last night at the Twin Shadow concert at The Phoenix. I had injured my Achilles tendon earlier in the week so didn’t intend to rock out. In fact, the plan was to have a reasonably good time, no dancing – only gentle swaying. For a while my gentle-sway was totally on point. But it was #whiskeyfriday, the vibe was good, the music was good, and the drink was in me. When he finally played You Call Me On I was totally channeling Homer Jay, “Now when I listen to a really good song, I start nodding my head, like I’m saying ‘yeeess’ to every beat. Yes Yes Yes, this rocks. And then sometimes I switch it up like. No, No, No! Don’t stop-a-rockin’!”

It was a great night so let’s be real, gentle swayin don’t cut it! You can’t contain this! So, as a result here we are, and here I am, sitting on the sofa on this gloomy Saturday staring into a tall glass of carbohydrate electrolyte beverage powder, orange, natural and artificial flavour.

How’s it look? Orange. How’s it taste? Like powdered orange Gatorade only a bit saltier. Overall assessment? Last night, GREAT. Fake Gatorade? Welcome. Now off to get some real grub.

 

 

Eating for the Cure…of Boredom (Part I)

Well, it’s been a week or so and I’ve not eaten a damn thing related to my last post. Why? Partly because I can’t stand the sight of them and partly because I felt the occasion really called for “live” eating and blogging — namely without the benefit of hindsight. Imagine how much more real restaurant reviews would be if the reviewer simply wrote or exclaimed the first thing that popped into their heads. “Transcendent!” “7 thumbs up!” “Bland.” “Flavours are there, but hair in the mouth.” “Just like mom used to make :)” “Just like mom used to make :(”

Fresh no? Anyways, in order to properly document my culinary journey in due course I think some systematic planning is in order. So, as a start here’s some additional background on the items under consideration from the Meal Supply Kit online store.

According to the site, “MREs are 3 course, shelf-stable, ready-to-eat meals developed by the US Military for feeding soldiers in the field. They are the most technically advanced food in the world.”

Image: MRE System from www.mealsupplykit.com

Image: MRE System from www.mealsupplykit.com

 

I’ve gotta admit, the fact that they are the most technically advanced food in the world is intriguing. But, being only a dilettante in the world of food blogging I don’t have the full 3 course meal system. In fact, an inventory of what I have on-hand shows that I’m in for a meager experience. For the record I have:

Drinks (Key feature, the packaging doubles as a plastic drinking vessel):

* Carbohydrate Electrolight Beverage Powder: Fruit Punch (Natural and artificial flavor). 12 oz serving;
* Carbohydrate Electrolight Beverage Powder: Orange (Natural and artificial flavor). 12 oz serving;
* Cocoa Beverage Powerder (Natural and artificially flavored, fortified). 6 oz;

Food:

* Blackberry Jam;
* Grape Jelly;
* Applesauce enhanced with Maltodextrin for Increased Performance;
* Muffin Top – flavor unknown;
* Wheat Snack Bread x 2;
* Toaster Pastry – Frosted Brown Sugar, and;
* Toaster Pastry – Strawberry

Having itemized everything I’ve found I definitely have no appetite so I’ll leave this post as is. Yes, I realize this is quite as shocking as the ending of last Sunday’s Game of Thrones [S03E09]. So to save you the trouble of hate-tweeting on me here’s some much needed distraction.

 

 

 

Spilling Ink for Terrible Food

“Good food deserves stern treatment”. These words were written by Welsh author Richard Llewellyn in his book How Green Was My Valley. The line has stayed with me over the years and I recall it often when I’m lucky enough to be seated at a table, mind-racing, the presence of others barely registering on the edge of perception because all I can think is, “Shut the fuck up and bring on the food”.

Good food deserves stern treatment. Such a simple sentence that can be appreciated by “foodies” and epicureans the world over. We live in an age where people are more educated about the culinary delights of the world than ever before. I often find myself thanking the gods that I live in times such as these where bone-marrow and foie gras have become almost pedestrian. You think Gordan Ramsey can offer sharp critique of a sub-par Yorkshire Pud? You haven’t heard me complain when the pacing of Sunday lunch at my aunt’s is not quite as desired. I mean, would it kill you to warm the plates before plating? How about timely maintenance of the table between courses?!

Come on! I’m trying to eat here!

Truly we live at a time where expectations for good food are at an all-time high. But, as expectations go up so too do standards (it is hoped). The number of Yelp! or Urban Spoon reviews I’ve read that wax poetic over a perfectly al dente bolognese, or a beautifully composed salad of seasonal herbs, fresh greens, goat’s cheese and poached pear (though a touch more citrus would have brightened up the plate) is enough to make one pause. Good food is all around us. And it has been given stern treatment.

But, what about mediocre food? What about the really god-awful shitty food? Don’t such dishes deserve some attention? Will noone spill some ink for the dishes left unfinished?

Well, I’m sure someone’s blogging about it already, but the point I’m trying to make is simply this: I came upon some army rations that look totally disgusting so I’m going to eat them and write about it here.

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Meal, Ready to Eat (photo: Christopherlin)

 

I have in my possession what feels like at least 2 pounds of random Meal, Ready to Eat rations. They look kinda like the ones in the picture above. The task before me is to eat them (and drink some of them) and then apply all of my years of learnings from countless hours spent watching Food Network to try to describe the experience of eating rations. In a condo. In downtown Toronto. Mostly because I’m bored.

Some of the key questions going into this experiment are: Does a not-too-shabby view of the CN Tower enhance the flavour? Are the rations more palatable if I’m wearing green, or some kind of camouflage? All this and more will become clear in the days to come.

Stay tuned gentle reader and follow along as my life takes an unexpected turn on this culinary journey.

P.S. For those who want to eat along you can order them here. Leave a comment to let me know you’re eating in solidarity.

P.S.S: The thought just occurred to me that I’m basically ripping off the movie Julie and Julia in which case I’m the Julie-equivalent and Meal, Ready to Eat is Julia Child. Not sure who’s got the short end of the stick on that one. Anyways, anyone looking to sue – too friggin’ bad, I’m claiming fair use, but am open to future film adaptations.