Pyongyang Pizza

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea – the story is old but the pictures are new and original.

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

For millions of undernourished North Koreans, the notion of eating at a restaurant belongs strictly to the world of fantasy. And so there is only the grimmest humour in the news that, for the country’s ruling elite, Pyongyang’s dining options just got a little more impressive: the country now has its first-ever pizzeria.

An obsession with pizza stretching back at least 10 years prompted the isolated nation’s dictator, Kim Jong-il, to authorize North Korea’s first Italian restaurant, which opened in December, according to a pro-Pyongyang newspaper published in Japan. “General Kim Jong-il said that the people should also be allowed access to the world’s famous dishes,” the restaurant’s manager, Kim Sang-Soon, was quoted as saying in Choson Sinbo, a Tokyo-based newspaper seen as a mouthpiece for the regime.

Those dining at the restaurant are reportedly treated to pizza and pasta made with wheat flour, butter and cheese flown in from Italy. They are also presumably reaping the benefits of a years-long effort by Kim Jong-il to bring the perfect pizza to his famine-plagued totalitarian state.

In the late 1990s, he summoned a team of Italian pizza chefs to Pyongyang to instruct army officers. One of the chefs, Ermanno Furlanis, later recounted how the Italians underwent x-rays, brain scans and urine and blood sampling on arrival, before being sequestered in a marble palace. One of the officers Furlanis was training asked him to specify the precise distance at which olives should be spaced on a pizza, he recalled.

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korea Pizza Restaurant

Neil Strauss with a North Korean Pizza

Neil Strauss with his authentic Italian pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea.

12 responses

  1. TheBlackTwig

    The first pizza? And distance of the olives? I can’t imagine. While here I am complaining about having too much pizza and pasta during the past holiday.

    January 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    • The pizza at this restaurant was fantastic, plus the waitresses sang for us!

      January 6, 2012 at 4:16 pm

  2. Brad

    Fantastic photos! Are you in Pyongyang now?

    January 7, 2012 at 6:01 am

    • There is no internet in North Korea – I’m back working in South Africa.
      These pics are from my Aug 2011 trip. I’m planning to go back in April 2012.

      January 7, 2012 at 6:11 am

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  4. u know, when we watch the news, we get the impresion that those north koreans have forgoten how to be humans and just let their goverment think for them, even if this is not totaly wrong, after reading your stories i start thinking that those people eat pizza, play frezby, sing and dance, laugh and cry… just like the rest of us, and im sure that just like us they the people of north korea can decide about their destiny, maybe not now, maybe not in 10 years, but for sure they will oneday
    i dunno why i am saying this in a post about pizza, but this is what i believe, and your stories just proved me right

    January 8, 2012 at 1:18 am

    • The best times I had in North Korea were with the locals when they felt safe and secure enough to let their guard down and interact with us. They are a very warm and lovely people, and yes, at the core of things very much like us – I wish them the best of luck in their future.

      January 8, 2012 at 12:24 pm

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  7. you and neil strauss man i would have loved to be there……looks like one hell of a time i am jealous of you having a rock star time in Pyongyang . please post more and have you thought about making a video…….hint ……..hint……… 🙂 i want to go there some day ……a Gothic girl in Pyongyang …..o i can see it now lol

    March 30, 2012 at 6:09 pm

  8. I enjoy taking pictures and video has never been my thing, but I do have a couple video clips posted on this blog in some of the older posts. I go back to North Korea in two weeks so much more will be coming.

    March 31, 2012 at 5:09 am

  9. We were there at the same time albeit on different tours. We visited the pizza place just a few hours before flying out and were serenaded – It was quite surreal hearing Celine Dion in Pyongyang.

    Great reading your account and seeing your photos.


    April 17, 2012 at 8:32 pm

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