Inside, customers are often surprised to see all the staff are North Korean but speak Vietnamese. “I have been in Vietnam for two years and taught myself Vietnamese,” one employee says.
There are around 10 women employees all in their early twenties and divided into two groups: one in red dresses serving the food and the other brown taking orders at tables.
The restaurant has several floors, with the first floor meant for serving drinks and thus quiet. The dining rooms above are crowded and bustling. The restaurant has four chefs.
“In recent days customers have to make a reservation in advance,” an employee says. “There are many people who do not reserve and come at noon but have to leave [because there is no table].”
The employee adds that every month ingredients including spices are imported from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Vegetables, fruits and meat are bought at the market daily.
When a patron sits at a table, a bowl of kim chi soup, two small cups of ginseng and shredded kim chi and a cup of dipping sauce are served.
Kim chi is a famous traditional side dish made from salted and fermented vegetables, most commonly napa cabbage and Korean radishes, with a variety of seasonings.
The menu is divided into kim chi dishes, cold dishes, hot dishes, hot pots, various types of pancakes, cold noodles, side dishes, and nearly 20 different types of drinks. The most expensive dish is a seafood hotpot costing VND750,000 ($32).
Some common dishes like stirred fried kim chi pork, grilled flax fish, grilled clam, steamed pork, and seaweed salad cost VND150,000-250,000 ($6.4 – 10.7). The DPRK’s food is very spicy and contains lots of kim chi.
The spoon served at the restaurant has carvings on the handle. The head does is not oval but instead has a protrusion in the middle.
Stir-fried pork mixed with kim chi is a favorite with many patrons. Like in most North Korean restaurants around the world, Pyongyang dishes are priced higher than those from other parts of the country. Taedonggang, a famous North Korean beer, costs VND250,000 ($10.7).
The restaurant has simple interiors with wooden tables and chairs and North Korean music playing the background. On a small stage are a red curtain and red and blue lights, which resembles the stage decoration style in Vietnam in the 1990s.
At 7:30 pm every night is an hour-long live music performance. But sometimes the restaurant cancels it without notice.
Curiously, visitors can take pictures of the restaurant but not of the staff.