Kaesong is the city in the DPRK which directly faces South Korea. Owing to its location, it is a city home to many inter-Korean projects including the former Kaesong Industrial Complex, as well as the new inter-Korean diplomatic liaison office. Inevitably, it is a transit point for visitors heading onwards to the DMZ as a staple part of that day’s itinerary. This includes a visit to the city’s historic Koryo Museum. Besides this, there is another destination in the city that is almost always included in visits: that is the Tongil Restaurant. The restaurant is especially notable for its take on traditional Korean cuisine as well as its “unique” other dishes which include Ginseng Chicken and the somewhat controversial Dog Soup. Let’s learn more!
The restaurant is coated in the wider themes of Kaesong itself. The name “Tongil” translates in Korean “together as one” which is the term used in both North and South Korea as “reunification”. No city has been more steeped in such symbolism than Kaesong, simply because of its proximity to the korean border and the political role it has played. Despite the name, however, the interior of the Tongil restaurant pays little more homage to this. It’s typical of the type of restaurant in the country which appears to be designated only for foreigners (although not all are like this). One enters the main room to find a large filled with circular tables and chairs coated with red fabric. On the wall at the end of the room is a gigantic portrait of Mount Kumgang, an area which of course does have inter-Korean connotations. A side room in the entrance contains a book and giftshop.
But now of course, onto the main focus: The food. The Tongil Restaurant serves on a pre-prepared the famous cuisine of Kaesong which is always given to foreigners, that being Namul, which is assorted spiced vegetables and meats into a series of traditional Korean bronze bowls. This usually comes with a serving of Taedonggang. But of course, that isn’t really grabs the surprise and interest of visitors. In addition to the Namul dishes, the restaurant also sells to visitors a Ginseng chicken (20 euros shared between a group) and Dog Soup or “Bosintang”. Ginseng, a famous Korean herb, is claimed to be good for personal health and help all kinds of ailments. Thus, Ginseng Chicken is basically a small roast chicken which is baked with the plant and as a result, has a quite strong taste to it. The Dog Soup can be purchased individually for 5 euros each. It is claimed that the dogs were grown especially on a farm and did not come from anyone’s pets. The Soup is cooked in a spicy gochujang broth. Those who tried it claimed they enjoyed it and that it had a “rich” taste to it.
In summary, this is the Tongil Restaurant. Based on the dream of reunification, the venue is instead focused on serving travelers on the way to see the continuing separation between the two countries. Nevertheless, it is a nice and relaxing place to have lunch after your visit to Panmunjom and the DMZ! It’s a chance to try out not only Korean traditional dishes, but a wider menu which is surprising and unconventional! Hopefully this guide can help you prepare in advance for your inevitable stop here during your DPRK tour!