Ho Chi Minh City isn’t just all about the local cuisine. There’s a little-known restaurant that offers a taste of North Korea in the centre of Vietnam’s largest city. Photos by Bao Zoan
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ho Chi Minh City has a North Korean restaurant. Although relations have turned chilly since the Cold War and when North Korea supported Vietnam during the war, it’s nice to know there remains a little of the whacky that attracted many of us to this great country in the first place.
Ryu Gyong in District 3 serves up typical Korean fare; food similar to what you come across at the many South Korean restaurants dotted around this city. Although the cuisines and cultures of the two divided states are said to be different, there’s no denying their similarities based on Ryu Gyong’s offerings.
But it’s not the food you come to Ryu Gyong for; it’s the entertainment it serves up, starting with its menu.
The fish you have when you’re not having fish…
If you’re not into fish, but still curious, you can try the salmon head spin for VND140,000. It’s uncertain as to where the head spin comes in, but it’s one of the cheapest dishes on a dizzyingly expensive menu.
A step up is the mung bean mixed jelly salad for VND160,000, the mysterious sounding fish myong the rim for VND300,000 or the sora large snail Korea, which is yours at a whopping VND350,000. I guess they grow them big in North Korea.
There’s a problem, though. If you’re not into fish, the so-called Non Fish Options on the menu look to have a lot of fish in them, so you might be best to flip the menu page at this point.
Soup could be a better option for you if the fish thing hasn’t worked out. The cheapest option is the somewhat unappetising concoction seaweed soup with scallops (VND130,000), but for another VND20,000, you can tuck into a canned soy sauce — kudos to anyone for guessing how this comes plated.
There are a few salad options if the mixed jelly mentioned earlier hasn’t got you going, but be prepared to shell out. The cheapest option is a sashimi synthetic salad – no, it’s not a typo – which drops for a cool VND1 million.
If you’re feeling thrifty, there’s a French-inspired tartare beef salad for VND390,000, but when this shares the same menu as the dog meat hot pot (VND650,000), perhaps it’s best left alone.
I Heart Korea
There are beef options, such as hot pot beef ribs (VND210,000) and beef hot pot (VND650,000) which, according to my uber-polite waitress, was in fact beef from North Korea “because beef in Vietnam is not good.” And what about Australian beef? I ask. “Beef in Australia is not good. I love Korean beef,” she replies in crisp English. I probe further. “Do you like Saigon?” I ask. To which she replies, “I love Korea.”
The biggest gem on the menu is the delightfully named Pyongyang Pot Fairy, a hot pot that comes in at a tick under VND1 million and begs to be ordered, but I leave it for next time (if there is one) and in the company of friends to help me pay for it.
In the end, I settle on a soggy banh hai san (VND220,000), which is often referred to as Korean pizza, thit suong bo nuong (BBQ ribs) for an extortionate VND450,000, and a mountain of sour kim chi for VND85,000.
For dessert, I choose a sad looking plate of mixed fruit (VND200,000) over the melon dessert (VND180,000), which brings my bill to around VND1.2 million with a couple of beers.
Dinner & Show
The highlight of dinner at Ryu Gyong is without doubt the show. At 7.30pm most nights, the waitresses hit the stage to kick off a 15-minute cultural show like no other.
The surreal experience starts with a four-piece band belting out a psychedelic rock Latin Zumba fusion number. I recognise my waitress on the drums while the one who’d just served me a beer is twanging away on bass guitar.
On this night, the band play Happy Birthday to a chuffed male diner at one of the five or so tables about the room after which he is presented with a fake flower. This is the cue for the band to cut back into a psychedelic punk rock riff accompanied by some pretty heavy bass and more high intensity drum rolls. The synthesiser is straight out of 1970s disco, so I feel for a moment that I’m sitting in the audience of a 1970s variety TV show.
Later, the drummer trades instruments and costumes and returns to play a 21-string traditional instrument with the aplomb of a classically-trained musician. A couple more costume changes and songs later and the ladies are back bussing tables and acting as though what I’d just witnessed never happened.
And that’s the thing about Ryu Gyong; you can’t help but think this restaurant is just for show, much like North Korea’s fearless leader’s missile launches, but far more entertaining.
Ryu Gyong North Korean Restaurant (Bac Trieu Tien Ryu Gyong) is at 30 Le Quy Don, Q3, HCMC. Try calling 7307 6666 or go to facebook.com/ryu.gyong.1
The Verdict (out of 15)
Food – 6
Decor – 10
Service – 14