Wednesday, April 3, 2013

North Korean take-out coming to Pittsburgh's Conflict Kitchen this fall, maybe.

Wonsan Docks North Korea
Popsicles in Wonsan, 2012, from Joseph A. Ferris.

Pittsburgh's Conflict Kitchen---"a take-out restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict"---recently opened in Oakland's Schenley Park. Accompanying news of its relocation from East Liberty and its Iranian menu is that North Korean food will be coming this fall. From the Pitt News yesterday:
While Conflict Kitchen’s current menu features authentic Iranian cuisine, its organizers hope to bring North Korean food to Oakland’s Schenley Plaza soon.

As of now, the Conflict Kitchen’s crew plans to travel to South Korea in August to meet with North Korean refugees and conduct food research. These face-to-face interactions allow for more direct information and a better product. Sayre said that while the crew formally conducted food research on a trip to Cuba, some of the best information and tips they received were from ordinary people they ran into on the street informally. The crew always attempts to experience a country’s food firsthand before bringing it to Pittsburgh, but in some cases, such as North Korea and Iran, field research is not feasible.
And from The Last Magazine in February:
While exploring Cuba, Rubin and Weleski came across the North Korean embassy in Havana and decided to pay the cultural attaché a visit. They discussed regional dishes and found out that North Korea’s food is in many ways similar to that of its bête noire, South Korea. While they acknowledge that a North Korean edition of Conflict Kitchen may be problematic, they nonetheless want to shed light on the human side of the conflict, cooking up coexistence through ethnic dishes regardless of the degree of controversy.
A Pop City Media post from March says they will offer both North and South Korean food, which is useful considering there are tens of thousands of American military personnel there, both symbolizing and actually representing this country's heavy bootprint all across East Asia.

Much of what the restaurant does know about North Korean food has heretofore come from Cuba, via that North Korean embassy. The Pittsburgh City Paper on their preparations up to last fall:
While research hasn’t stretched to visiting the country, Rubin and Sayre did stop by the North Korean embassy in Cuba, or at least rung the doorbell and chatted for 45 minutes with an employee returning from a morning run.
The Los Angeles Times wrote in 2012 of the then-impending Korean menu:
"People are going to be thinking, 'Are we going to be eating twigs and rocks?' " Rubin joked as he repaired the cafe's front counter, where employees dish out food and try to get customers to talk about the conflict du jour.

One thing Rubin learned from the Korean diplomat, who was polite but did not let his uninvited guests into the embassy, is that North Korean cuisine isn't much different from South Korean. The two countries were, after all, one until 1945, the diplomat reminded them in flawless Spanish. He noted, however, that northerners lean toward buckwheat rather than rice noodles.
Wikipedia will give you a quick overview of regional Northern Korean food. The "maybe" in our title is there because talk of North Korean food has been going on since 2010.