Image: N. Korea burger joint
North Korea's first fast-food restaurant has become quickly popular among the locals and foreigners in Pyongyang and may soon expand.
updated 7/30/2009 3:16:06 PM ET 2009-07-30T19:16:06

You want kimchi with that?

The first fast-food joint has opened in North Korea, serving up burgers, fries and beer in Pyongyang, and the locals are lovin' it so much that more are planned for the communist capital.

And it's not just junk food. Other symbols of Western capitalism are sprouting up — including a beer commercial on state TV and a convenience store that reportedly was visited in April by leader Kim Jong Il.

Impoverished and isolated North Korea likes to boast of its nuclear weapons and regularly threatens the U.S. and South Korea should they dare invade. Still, it is offering citizens of its capital some of the commonplace delights of its sworn enemies.

The Samtaesong fast-food restaurant, which reportedly opened last month, serves up very American fare: hamburgers, french fries, waffles and draft beer. Also on the menu: kimchi, the spicy pickled cabbage that Koreans love. It plans to add croissants and hot dogs.

"It is not so long since its opening, but our restaurant has become popular among our people and foreigners," manager Ko Jong Ok told broadcaster APTN in Pyongyang on Thursday. "We are planning to set up branches in many places of the city in the future."

APTN video showed the staff, mostly young women, in orange aprons and white hats cooking hamburgers and french fries.

The restaurant appeared to be styled after fast-food joints the world over, with the menu pictured above the counter. Several North Koreans were seen ordering and others eating at tables, although more seats were empty than filled.

One British customer said he was satisfied.

"I think it is very clean and I think every effort has been made to present the food very well," George Bottomley told APTN.

Choson Sinbo, a Tokyo-based newspaper viewed as a mouthpiece for the North Korean government, reported last week that the restaurant opened in June in cooperation with a Singaporean company that it did not identify. The company provided training to the staff and supplied equipment.

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A hamburger costs $1.70, Choson Sinbo said. That is more than half of the daily income of the average North Korean.

North Korea has relied on outside handouts to feed its 24 million people since natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy in the 1990s and helped cause a famine. Its government strictly controls information about the outside world.

Residents of Pyongyang are considered the most affluent in North Korea, where the government has in recent years introduced limited market reforms in an apparent effort to ease hardship and raise living standards.

And just so patrons of the fast-food restaurant don't forget who's the boss, a sign outside reads, "Long live the Songun revolution ideology." Songun, which means "military first," is one of Kim's key policies calling for giving priority to North Korea's armed forces.

Choson Sinbo reported this month that Kim, known for his taste for expensive cognac and sushi, bought five bottles of "makgeolli," a milky Korean liquor, and other drinks at the convenience store in Pyongyang.

Also this month, state TV aired what is believed to be North Korea's first beer commercial, a nearly three-minute ad that followed a news program.

It showed a grinning, sweaty man holding a glass of beer. A caption read, "Taedong River Beer is the pride of Pyongyang."

The commercial said the beer relieves stress and improves health and longevity. The clip also showed a pub in Pyongyang filled with drinkers.

State TV also showed footage Wednesday from South Korean TV programs that had been edited to highlight social and economic problems in the far richer South. The move was apparently aimed at quashing rumors among North Koreans that the rival country — a major economic success story and member of the Group of 20 nations — is better off.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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