Courtesy of Zhang Peng / Getty Images

Yikes.

April 28, 2017

Think your airplane food experiences have been less than delicious? Try flying Air Koryo, North Korea’s state airline. You'll be served a cold burger featuring unidentifiable meat, one piece of lettuce, and a slice of cheese, all presented on a white paper doily.

It's so cold and unidentifiable, in fact, that you might just wish you were flying United. (Or Air New Zealand, for that matter, which recently showcased its nearly unbelievable line of high-caliber airplane food.)

The “Koryo Burger” has prompted a slew of questions from Western visitors, an outpouring of Instagram posts and articles, and an overall confusion about what exactly this sad, deflated version of an otherwise American-looking burger is doing on a North Korean airplane, of all places.

As Simon Cockerell, general manager of Beijing-based travel company Koryo Tours (it's got the same name as the airline, but the two have nothing to do with one another), told the LA Times, “It’s something that people are absolutely blown away by. And it’s a piece of meat between two buns.”

His opinion? “I think it’s just the incongruity of having a burger on a quote-unquote ‘communist’ plane. But what else would they serve? You can’t give everyone a bibimbap (a Korean mixed rice dish), and serving kimchi on a plane would be horrifying." 

True.

He went on to add that “it’s just that North Korea, to tourists, is so inherently sinister and funny at the same time."

Also true.

It's important to remember, of course, that one of the other things that undoubtedly makes the burger so shocking to an outside observer is the awful and somewhat ironic realization one has while eating it—that many North Korean citizens rarely get to eat meals with protein, if they get to eat a full meal at all. Full-blown malnutrition is rampant in the country. From 1994 to 1998, a famine caused an estimated hundreds of thousands to starve, and many subsisted on things like tree bark.

Now, there are supermarkets and restaurants in Pyongyang. But undernourishment is still a serious (and often fatal) problem.

Cockerell was able to confirm that the meat is chicken. At least, he thinks so—but he isn't 100 percent sure, either. As for how it tastes? Our fearless burger expert offered his take: "bready, chewy and bland."

Of course, if meat of questionable origin makes you queasy, you can always try the vegetarian option: the same exact thing, but with a lone slice of tomato where the meat used to be.