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Monday
Jul182011

North Korea Starves, But Elite Open Swank Eatery

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- The phrase "dining capitals of the world" conjures up places like Paris, Rome, New York, Tokyo. Pyongyang usually isn't among them, and for good reason: the capital of famine-stricken North Korea has been previously best known for its gastronomic delicacy of cold noodles in broth -- slyly called Pyongyang deoldeori, which translates to "shivering in Pyongyang." 

However, earlier this week, "The Restaurant at Hana" opened its doors in the North Korea capital. Restaurants come and go with little fanfare in most world capitals, but it gets noticed when one opens in the so-called Hermit Kingdom where starvation is rampant.

Located in the new headquarters of a North Korean and European joint venture electronics company that produces DVD players, the new restaurant boasts of its many amenities on its website while welcoming "foreigners and locals alike."

It's not clear why the restaurant contains a hairdresser, sauna, treadmills, and a swimming pool. But the heavily produced promotional video, with animated champagne corks popping and smiling clown fish, lingers over these stations as well as the marble-lined private dining rooms decked with flat-screen LCD TVs and glass chandeliers. Despite being a dining establishment, the Restaurant at Hana website, surprisingly, doesn't mention food. And the video does not show any people in the restaurant, either --  customers or staff.

The lack of food may be related to the growing food crisis in the isolated communist country. International aid agencies like the World Food Program say the public food distribution system has collapsed and up to 6 million people are at risk of malnutrition and starvation.

Representatives from Restaurant at Hana's umbrella group, Phoenix Commercial Ventures Ltd, declined to be interviewed for this article. They initially agreed to answer questions submitted by email, but did not respond to ABC News' questions.

This is not the first time a restaurant has caused a stir in Pyongyang. Last fall, the country's first burger joint opened to blockbusting lines of North Koreans thirsting for a taste of the decidedly American fare. One of the proprietors of that unmistakably capitalist venture was none other than the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il's own sister.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio