Back in the ‘90s, New Yorkers would have said you were crazy for opening a restaurant in Brooklyn. Two decades later, the borough has one of the most robust restaurant scenes in the world. It just goes to show you that the next big hotspot can emerge anywhere. Maybe even Pyongyang, North Korea?! Though probably not.
According to the Associated Press, a new upscale sushi restaurant has recently opened in the North Korean capital. The eatery, run by Japanese chef Kenji Fujimoto, boasts prices that start at $50, but can top out at over $100. It’s not the kind of business you’d expect to hear opening in the isolated country, but Fujimoto isn’t your typical Japanese sushi chef.
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Kenji Fujimoto, which is a pseudonym, had deep ties to the Kim Jong-Il regime and is once again apparently friendly with the current North Korean regime. The Japanese chef first started working in Pyongyang in 1982. By 1988, he was preparing sushi exclusively for North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, a position he held until 2001, when he fled the country, fearing that his life may be in danger. He later published a somewhat controversial memoir about this experience called Kim Jong Il’s Chef. You’d think writing a tell-all about the Dear Leader would put an end to your days rubbing elbows with North Korea’s elite, but apparently it’s all water under the Ongryu Bridge. In 2012, Fujimoto returned to communist nation at the invitation of none other than Kim Jong-Un. The chef said he was greeted with a wild drinking party and was given a pass to visit the secretive country whenever he wants. Now, it appears the chef is using that good will to get back into the North Korean sushi game, opening “Takahashi” – a small but pricy sushi counter with just a handful of seats.
In speaking with the AP, Canadian Michael Spavor – a consultant on North Korea who helped facilitate Dennis Rodman’s infamous visits – explained that the demand for a nice and authentic Japanese sushi restaurant in the North Korean capital might be higher than you think. “I think everyone in the world is aware that North Korea has its challenges and economic difficulties,” Spavor was quoted as saying. “That being said, there are many Koreans in Pyongyang who are able to afford these kind of high-end restaurants…. And keep in mind also that Pyongyang has a lot of foreign diplomats, U.N. workers, businessmen from China and other countries who can also dine at this restaurant.”
Still, personally, I think I’ll just monitor the ratings on a TripAdvisor for a bit before dropping by.