Wealthy Pyongyangites drop major cash for upscale meals

Seol Song Ah  |  2015-12-01 14:30
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As the de facto private economy expands in North Korea and the gap between the rich and poor grows, Pyongyangs new affluent middle class, known as the donju, or 'money masters,' are paying hundreds of dollars for fancy restaurant meals. 

On November 27th a Daily NK reporter spoke with a source in North Pyongan Province by telephone, who said that as the Kim Jong Un era presses on, the unceasing transformation of the capital embodies two sides to every coin.

Daily NK crosschecked this news with a source in the capital and another in South Pyongan Province. 

While Party cadres and the donju spend hundreds of dollars per meal at fancy restaurants, ordinary citizens scrape by day to day on what they can earn at the market," she asserted.

On Independence Road, near the gym (Pyongyang Gymnasium)," she said that the donju and the elite can be seen frequenting such upscale restaurants like The Golden Cup, known for its high end cuisine; another popular eatery is a nearby bistro specializing in smoked duck.  A single meal at either of these establishments starts at $50, generally running a customer far more. 

A group of four can easily consume at least $200 worth of food at one meal, she noted. 

$200 is the equivalent of 1,600,000 KPW, which, at the current market price of 5000 KPW per 1 kg of rice, can purchase approximately 320 kg worth of rice, the staple of the North Korean diet. 

Although the number of Pyongyang citizens earning decent money as markets flourish appears to be on the rise, the disparity in wealth is also growing owing to the monopoly market power of the authorities. Their grip on the market allows them to enjoy a lifestyle that our source compared to heaven on earth, while the "rest of the people are left out in the cold."

This growing disparity is highlighted in every aspect of life in the capital, she went on, noting that while duck is a popular food in Pyongyang among the rich and poor alike, only the elite have the resources to buy smoked duck at high-end establishments such as Cheongchungwan and Koryo Hotel while average people huddle around small roadside restaurants or food stands eating deep-fried varieties of the bird. 

High-end restaurants remove the head, neck, and feet of the duck, and top of the line chefs prepare the meat carefully so as not to lose any of the nutrients, the source said. Prices range from $15-$50 per plate. Duck sold at the roadside restaurants, on the other hand, is summarily deep-fried as is and costs about $5 per bird. 

Donju do not just partake in the delicacy, these 'money masters' are propping up the entire industry. According to the source, duck sold at the more upscale state-run restaurants in Pyongyang comes from state-run duck farms in areas like Pyongwon, Jeungsan, and Yongji in South Pyongan Province. Ducks raised on state farms are supplied to restaurants in Pyongyang at the nationally determined price according to the yearly distribution plan.

However, the operation of duck farms has become difficult due to a shortage of capital, so government authorities have been selling ducks to restaurants run by the donju at the market rate in order to raise the capital needed to continue operations.

*The content of this article was broadcast to the North Korean people via Unification Media Group.

*Translated by Natalie Grant

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