Kim Jong Il Invented the Hamburger, and Other DPRK Culinary Highlights

No, the hamburger was not invented in Hamburg. It did not first appear in New Jersey at Louis Lunch.The hamburger in fact first appeared in 2000 at the personal behest of Kim Jong Il, who really wanted top university students to be fed top-quality fast food in-between classes.

Eternally enterprising, Kim Jong Il decided in 2000 that he’d introduce “double bread with meat” to DPRK university students – and according to state media, seemed to take credit for the very invention of the internationally beloved specialty.

“I’ve made up my mind to feed quality bread and French fries to university students, professors and researchers even if we are in hardship,” Kim is reported to have said about the “double bread with meat” innovation, according to the New York Times.

The Dear Leader’s eating habits are described in somewhat nauseating detail by his former personal chef, Kenji Fujimoto, in a fantastic Atlantic article.

According to Mr Fujimoto, the Dear Leader deployed his minions at great expense worldwide to places like:

“Urumqi (in northwestern China) for fruit, mainly hamigua melons and grapes
Thailand for fruit, mostly durians, papayas, and mangoes
Malaysia for fruit, mostly durians, papayas, and mangoes
Czechoslovakia for draft beer
Denmark for pork
Iran for caviar
Uzbekistan for caviar
Japan for seafood”

The Dear Leader apparantly failed to notice – or care – about the mass famine that gripped the nation in the early 90s, but he was more than happy to deploy his squad of minions world-wide to get grapes, expensive fish, luxury fruits from as far as Western China, and sacks of McDonald’s burgers for him whenever his dark little heart so desired.

According to chef Fujimoto, whose memoir, “I was Kim Jong Il’s Personal Chef” tragically has not yet been translated into English, Kim Jong Il really did have a thing for burgers.

After the Leader’s sons came back from a stint at Swiss boarding school, they reported cheesburgers were delicious – and Fujimoto was promptly deployed to acquire some of the exotic treats from abroad. From the New York Times article:

“So I flew to Beijing, and went to McDonald’s and bought a bag of hamburgers,” the chef recounted. “Of course by the time I got back to Pyongyang, they were cold. So Kim Jong Il ate cold hamburgers.”

Kim Jong Il’s culinary exploration was not limited to food – he also maintained a massive wine and alcohol collection. Indeed, Hennessey earnings have dropped 70% as of Monday (not really) – after all, Kim Jong Il reportedly bought up to $720,000 of the stuff a year.

Considering Hennessey’s incredible popularity among the moneied set here in Cambodia, the cognac does seem to have a certain appeal to too-rich-for-their-own good despots of small, unimportant nations.

State-sanctioned entertainment at Pyongyang Restaurant, Phnom Penh.

From all accounts, Kim Jong Il enjoyed a remarkably elaborate diet for the supposedly salt-of-the-earth leader of the most ardently Communist nation left on Earth.

Although the people may be fed state propaganda about Kim Jong Il’s fondness for rustic meals of potatoes, barley, and gypsy tears, it’s widely known on the outside that Jong Il was dining on the finest sushi imported sushi while his people were reduced to eating bark, grass, and insects.

We can only hope that all that luxurious food hastened his fatal coronary.

Is saying that going to get me put on some sort of DPRK watchlist? That would actually be kind of awesome.

The North Korean flag is at half-mast at the DPRK Embassy located a mere 10-minute walk away from my home in Phnom Penh. The Pyongyang Restaurant here remains shuttered for a “period of mourning.”

As a hobby restaurant reviewer, I’m always interested in the culinary habits of the rich, famous, and profoundly evil – and Kim Jong Il is a fascinating subject indeed.

Also: 10 Management Secrets of Kim Jong Il – INC

This gem of an article focuses on the marvelous management abilities of the recently-departed Dear Leader. It does all make a perverse sort of sense. Especially the stuff about charisma, quality control, and “embracing new technologies.”

Does this mean Kim Jong Il was like the alternate-universe evil Steve Jobs of shitty third world dictatorships?

Mekong Korean: Food for Pretending It Is Cold Outside

Mekong Korean Restaurant
Sothearos Drive
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Korean restaurants are rife in Phnom Penh, and family restaurant Mekong Korean occupies a convenient location in the very center of the city. Dishing up rustic versions of Korean standards such as bi-bim-bap, tofu stew, stir-fried pork with red pepper and chicken stews, the restaurant has an entirely nondescript interior, few Western customers, and background music trending towards “Christian Celtic Songs Of the 90’s.” I find it all rather relaxing in a surrealist dream way.

My favorite dish here is definitely the bulgogi stew at $8. It’s not really bulgogi – they use ground beef here – but I love the slightly sweet, beefy, sesame infused broth. It’s served with cabbage, carrots, sesame seeds, onions, and a bunch of enoki mushrooms. All the vegetation can make you pretend you’re being healthy. Also a great option when dining with people who are red pepper averse, which is a serious, serious malfunction in Korean restaurants.

Another good dish here is Korean chicken stew, an exceptionally homey dish of braised chicken in a spicy red pepper sauce with potatoes, capsicum, onions, and chilis. It’s spicy and delightfuly rustic at the same time. Great over rice, big pieces of skin-on, bone in chicken, something you’d make yourself in cool weather. It’s almost getting into the low seventies at night in Phnom Penh now so I feel cold-weather food is entirely justified. It’s around $14 for 2, and the stew’s serving size was big enough that Giant Iowa Boyfriend and I could share it and be more than satiated.

Read more at Things I Ate in Cambodia….

Kimly: Kep Crab Market Crab-Shack, Awesome Fried Shrimp

Kimly Restaurant
Crab Market (if you’re in Kep, you can’t miss it)
Kep, Cambodia

Kimly is the most popular restaurant in Kep’s Crab Market cluster of eateries, attracting a mixture of both Khmer and Western custom. Specializing in fresh seafood, and with a more extensive menu than other Crab Market restaurants, it attracts a cracking business during holidays, and is usually pleasingly quiet during the week. Everything is fresh, of course: you may note this place is built over the ocean.

Kimly is even so successful that they’ve built a guesthouse near Knai Bang Chatt: haven’t been there yet, doubt they put crab-scented air fresheners in the rooms but one never knows.

Read more at Things I Ate in Cambodia….