A few friends and I had the honor of dining at Neungla Bapsang 능라밥상 near Jongro the other day, where they specialize in authentic North Korean cuisine ranging from rice bowls (bibimbap) to different appetizers (nokdu jeon, aka mung bean pancakes). From my experience with North Korean food–mostly naengmyun 냉면 (cold noodles) restaurants–it was always the same conclusion when it came to describing the food: simple, rustic, and slightly on the bland side. This was my second time eating here, but I must say both experiences have been very positive. Most the dishes, although simple and straight forward in appearance, were very fresh, healthy, and palatable. Even better, they don’t use any artificial ingredients (i.e. MSG). Although there’s not a whole lot of difference with its southern counterpart in terms of flavors and ingredients used, all the dishes had a unique aspect to them befitting the region where they originated from. In addition to the great food, we also got to meet and talk with the restaurant’s owner, a well-known North Korean defector and current professor at Kyungin Women’s College, Aeran Lee. She, along with the staff, were very helpful in explaining each dish, while at the same time thoroughly enjoyed watching me climb chairs to take pictures.
Here’s a little more information on the restaurant’s owner, Aeran Lee. In March 2010, as one of the 10 recipients of the annual Award for International Women of Courage from the U.S. State Department, she met with First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She has played a leading role in helping other North Korean defectors settle and get an education in South Korea. Ms. Lee earned a doctoral degree in nutritional science and food management from Ewha Womans University, the first North Korean woman to do so. She has been raising funds for female and children defectors ever since. She currently gives lectures on the side and operates the restaurant with a staff comprised mostly of North Korean defectors.
Proceeds from restaurant sales also benefit other North Korean activism, so please check it out if you live in Seoul!
Food: ★★★★ out of 5 stars
Service: ★★★★ out of 5 stars
Ambiance: ★★★★ out of 5 stars
Value: ★★★★½ out of 5 stars
Neungla Babsang (능라밥상)
197-1 Nakwon-dong, Jongro-gu, Kyungsan Building 2nd Floor (종로구 낙원동 197-1 경산빌딩 2층)
Hours: 9:30am ~ 9:30pm
Click here for an interactive map: https://goo.gl/maps/HdhFc