It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ho Chi Minh City has a North Korean restaurant. North Korea supported Vietnam during the American war, though relations cooled with Vietnam’s decision to negotiate a peace with the US. It’s nice to know there remains a little of the wacky that attracted many of us to this 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 our 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 just the food you come to Ryu Gyong for; it’s the entertainment.
Fancy Some Fish?
If you’re not into fish, but still curious, you can try the salmon head spin for VND140,000. At what stage the head spin comes in, I’m not sure, but it’s one of the cheapest dishes on the competitively priced menu.
A step up is the mung bean mixed jelly salad for VND160,000, the exotic sounding fish myong the rim for VND300,000 or the sora large snail Korea which is yours at VND350,000.
There’s a problem, though. If you’re not into fish (or snail), the ‘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 choice if the fish thing hasn’t worked out. The cheapest option is the seaweed soup with scallops (VND130,000), but for another VND20,000, you can tuck into a canned soy sauce.
There are a few salad options if the mixed jelly mentioned earlier hasn’t got you going. The cheapest dish is the sashimi synthetic salad, which drops for a cool VND1 million.
If you’re feeling thrifty, there’s a French-inspired tartare beef salad for VND390,000. This shares the same menu space as the dog meat hot pot (VND650,000).
There are other beef options, such as hot pot beef ribs (VND210,000) and beef hot pot (VND650,000) which, according to my uber-polite waitress, is 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.”
In the end, I settle on banh hai san (VND220,000), which is often referred to as Korean pizza, thit suong bo nuong (BBQ ribs) for VND450,000, and a mountain of sour kim chi for VND85,000. For dessert, I choose a 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.
The highlight of dinner at Ryu Gyong is the show. At 7.30pm most nights, the waitresses hit the stage to kick off a 15-minute cultural performance like no other.
The experience starts with the 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 plays 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. It’s 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 I’m sitting in the audience of an ancient 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've just witnessed never happened.
Ryu Gyong North Korean Restaurant (Bac Trieu Tien Ryu Gyong) is at 30 Le Quy Don, Q3, HCMC. Try calling (028) 7307 6666 or go to facebook.com/ryu.gyong.1
Food - 15*
Service - 15*
Decor - 15*
* Best make up your own mind on this one...
Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15.
13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 — 12.5 very good to excellent
8 — 9.5 good to very good
5 — 7.5 fair to good
0 — 4.5 poor to fair
Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals
Photos by Bao Zoan