We first visited the Yokjon a couple of years ago, and it has become a firm favourite with Choson Exchange workshop leaders. Repeated trips to work with North Korean entrepreneurs in Pyongyang have meant visits to dozens of different eating establishments in the capital, and whilst the Korean food is fantastic, sometimes you just need a day having something other than kimchi. The Yokjon satisfies that need admirably.
The Taesong Restaurant is located Southeast of the Polish embassy by about 500 meters and features a number of firsts in the Pyongyang dining scene. They serve beers in liter sized glasses. Oh sure, they have normal 500cc sized beers, also, but why wouldn't you get a whole liter? That's a lot of beer.
Working to support frontier entrepreneurs in North Korea is never easy. The country's bureaucracy is challenging to work with, its guardians paranoid and global understanding of North Koreans and their country prone to gross stereotyping. Fundraising for our work is never easy in the best of times, and is now much more complicated as inter-Korean and US-North Korea tensions reach new peaks. As we look towards a very uncertain funding situation, this Harvard Business School case profiling our work will help rethink our model and approach.
Indeed, it did bear some fruit: one elderly Chinese man from border town of Tumen recalled a couple years ago that he watched with great interest how in 1959 the Koreans sent teams up to Namyang, across the river, throw up a 5 storey building in just a couple weeks and leave. He'd never seen anything so incredible in his life - it made him want to move across the river!
A minty health-drink for stress relief. A kind of Facebook for North Korean mothers with parenting tips on the local intranet. A wondrous machine that, the inventors claim, will turn animal manure from farms into cheap electricity, charcoal, and gasoline. These are just a few of the business ideas pitched by teams of North Korean geeks to a group of entrepreneurs who recently travelled to the DPRK with Choson Exchange.
Much is unknown about Manbang - we looked on the Chinese web to see if the characters for "Manbang" mean "10,000 directions" or "10,000 broadcasts", but Chinese news sites didn't know and were just using Roman letters. We also don't know if new apartment, leisure or entertainment buildings will be wired for the kind of data that is needed for streaming television.
Choson Exchange organise trips for foreigners to run workshops to share our business expertise with Korean entrepreneurs, but when we are not teaching there is plenty of time to go out and explore for an evening. To be fair, Pyongyang could hardly be called a swinging city by night, and by 10pm the tower blocks are mostly dark with only a few back street snack and beer tents remaining open; but things are changing and year on year the range of entertainment options is growing fast.
The coffee is good, but the cafe also features a range of alcoholic beverages so if you're nervous for, um, whatever reason and need the calming influence of alcohol before a flight, they can help out also. Prices for coffee drinks aren't cheap, though. They're slightly more expensive than most airport coffeeshops around Asia.