Cafe culture thrives from extra time and cash

Along with restaurants selling food such as
pizza and hamburgers, a growing number of cafes are sprouting up across North
Korea, breaking out of Pyongyang where they were once concentrated. Major
cities in other provinces have seen an increase in relatively affluent and
young people who are willing to splurge on coffee and western dishes, Daily NK
has learned. 

“In the areas around Hamheung Station
square a lot of coffee and tea houses as well as hamburger shops have popped
up,” a source in South Hamkyung Province told Daily NK on Thursday. “Around the
intersection and marketplace, where there’s a lot of foot traffic, state
companies under the Party and military have opened coffee and hamburgers joints
to pull in more money.”

She added, “The coffee is imported from
China and Italy. They’re drawing a lot of attention because they not only have
hot teas but also all kinds of fruit juices and even an ice shaving machine for
hotter days.” The places are becoming popular among donju [new affluent middle
class], college students, and young people, as popular “hang out” venues.

“They also have drip coffee and Americanos
that South Koreans love so much. They serve it in a 200ml cup right on the
spot, and it’s roughly 12,000 KPW [1.48 USD] for one coffee,” she said. “In the
case of ordinary residents, they’re unfamiliar with the taste, so many choose
hot tea, which is only about half the cost, or they go with cold fruit juices
as well.”

An increasing number of people are willing
to pay for coffee and drinks, despite them being over double the price of an
average laborers’ monthly wage. Such establishments are spreading in large
cities such as Nampo, Pyongsong in South Pyongan Province, Chongjin in North
Hamkyung Province, and Wonsan in Kangwon Province. Most of these cities are
home to foreign currency-earning trading companies, according to the source.

“Restaurants and stands affiliated with
trading companies tasked with earning foreign currency sell hamburgers, pizza, waffles
and other processed foods made with ready-made mixes,” the source said. “Other
restaurants that claim to be more upscale sell omurice [Japanese omelette
stuffed with fried rice], curry, yakisoba [stir-fried noodles], and other
varieties of Japanese dishes.”

She explained that while the prices at
these coffee shops and hamburger establishments may be more than five times
that of an average establishment, “more people are showing a tendency to
splurge once or twice a month.” When cadres from the Central Party make
business trips to areas outside of Pyongyang, provincial officials even escort them
to these eateries as a form as hospitality.  

This greater variety of cuisine has been
welcomed by many, with people from affluent classes to young college students
saying they are learning more about the world through various foods, according
to the source. However, she did add some are not so pleased about tastes with
which they are unfamiliar and the attending hefty price tags.