The Mystery of North Korea’s Singing Waitresses

On a trip to Beijing about ten years ago, my wife and I picked up a local English-language restaurant guide and found a review of a North Korean hotspot.  Of course, we had to go.  The place was cheery enough with all the wait staff wearing cultural outfits and the walls were covered with complex murals featuring Dear Leader.

The menu was another matter.  On page four was the establishment’s dog specialties.  Dog carpaccio.  Shredded dog.  Dog skewers.  My wife screamed and ran out so fast that she left her purse behind.

Now there’s a North Korean restaurant chain that has franchised itself into some countries in the Far East which in addition to serving dog provides entertainment in the form of singing waitresses.  The BBC reports:

The working assumption, according to most reports, is that the Pyongyang chain is primarily there to make money, to feed the North Korean leadership’s desperate need for foreign currency.Some speculate that the restaurants are in fact directly under the wing of the secretive Bureau 39, an agency that allegedly launders cash for the government through ventures that include arms sales and methamphetamine production.

But to be fair, there was absolutely no sign of that here. And anyway, given all the staff, pleasant decor and equipment, it occurred to me that this little place was hardly going to provide that much of a boost to the nation’s struggling balance sheet.

I turned back to the Korean doctor. What did he think? Could these women be spies, or was this just a money-laundering operation?

He shrugged doubtfully. Maybe it wasn’t about money or politics at all. Maybe the North Koreans just want to put on a show – to smile and to sing – they just want to be loved.


The full story can be found here.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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