Great Leader, But Even Better Noodles

You could have knocked Cho Bok Soon over with a noodle. In fact she had not seen a real noodle from home since she left North Korea 50 years ago, as the communist walls were closing. So Cho was thrilled to hear North Korea was opening its first business in South Korea--a Seoul branch of Pyongyang's Okryukwan noodle house. Launched on May 3, the new Okryukwan is turning away as many as 3,000 customers each day. Cho, 67, waited an hour in line to find out lunch was sold out, then made a dinner reservation. "I will come back because this is much easier than going all the way to Pyongyang," she says.

Seoul's new openness to the North made the Okryukwan possible. Franchised by Pyongyang, it is owned by a Korean entrepreneur in Japan, who sells the chance to "experience the exotic world of North Korea" for less than $5 a bowl. Using buckwheat and utensils shipped in from Pyongyang, the Okryukwan makes real Northern specialties like rangmyon noodles in chilled broth. But the ambience is off. Just one tenth the size of the 3,800-seat Pyongyang original, the Seoul Okryukwan also lacks posters crediting its noodles and all good things to "Great Leader" Kim Jong Il. Noodles, yes, but Northern propaganda is still banned in the South.

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