Page last updated at 12:29 GMT, Monday, 16 March 2009

First North Korean pizzeria opens

Slice of pizza (file image)
It is unclear how many North Koreans will be able to try the pizzas

North Korea's first pizzeria has opened in the capital Pyongyang, according to a Japan-based newspaper.

Chefs were sent to Italy for training by leader Kim Jong-il, who said North Koreans should be able to try the world's best foods, said Choson Sinbo.

Many people in the secretive communist state live in poverty and rely on food aid, but a wealthy elite can afford a more luxurious lifestyle.

An estimated two million North Koreans have died in famines since the 1990s.

Mr Kim's expensive tastes in food have often been commented on by those who have met him. He is believed to have a fondness for caviar, French wines, shark fin soup and cognac.

But the new restaurant's manager, Kim Sang-soon, said Mr Kim believed all North Koreans should "also be allowed access to the world's famous dishes".

I knew well from television and publications that pizza and spaghetti are world famous food, but it is the first time that I've tasted it
Jong Un-suk, customer

"He then called for the establishment of a restaurant specialising in Italian food," Kim Sang-soon told the Choson Sinbo.

The pro-North Korean newspaper said the restaurant, which imports its flour, butter and cheese from Italy, had been busy since opening in December.

Many customers were trying Italian food for the first time.

"I knew well from television and publications that pizza and spaghetti are world famous food, but it is the first time that I've tasted it," said one diner, Jong Un-suk.

Pyongyang already has a successful fried chicken outlet, opened in 2007 and, its owners say, taking 1,000 a day.

Food aid

Last year, chefs were flown to Naples and Rome to learn how to create authentic pizzas and pasta dishes, returning to North Korea to perfect them through "trial and error", said Kim Sang-soon.


But it is possible the new restaurant has been at least a decade in the planning.

Italian chef Ermanno Furlanis was flown to North Korea in 1997 along with special pizza ovens.

In 2004, he described to the BBC how he had given lessons to three army officers who took copious notes and asked detailed questions such as how far apart olives should be placed on each pizza.

Mr Furlanis said Kim Jong-il may even have visited one of the training sessions, being held on a ship anchored offshore.

"I am not in the position to say whether it really was him, but our chef, who had no reason to fib, was, for the space of several minutes, utterly speechless," Mr Furlanis said.

"He said he felt as if he had seen God, and I still envy him this experience."

It is, however, unlikely that many ordinary people will be able to eat in the new restaurant.

North Korea is among the world's poorest countries, relying on international food aid to feed its people.

According to the World Food Programme, up to nine million North Koreans were facing urgent food shortages this winter.

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