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N.K. introduces Western coffee shop in Pyongyang

North Korea has introduced a Western coffee shop in Pyongyang, a source said Tuesday, the latest case of embracing foreign cuisine in a country grappling with chronic food shortages.

The North has been struggling to keep outside influences from seeping into the isolated country out of fear that they could eventually pose a threat to leader Kim Jong-il’s autocratic rule.

The North has routinely called on its 24 million people to guard against Western influences, describing them as part of psychological warfare designed to topple the communist regime.

The government, however, has set up Western-style restaurants in partnership with foreign companies and an international relief agency since 2005, according to the source.

In October, a coffee shop opened inside a national museum near Kim Il-sung Square through an investment by Helmut Sachers Kaffee, an Austrian coffee producer and bakery supplier.

The Austrian company has trained North Korean staff to make coffee and bread, said the source.

A cup of coffee costs 2 euro, a price that is out of reach for ordinary North Koreans who make an average of 3,000 North Korean won a month. The North Korean won was traded at 134 won to one euro in November according to an official exchange rate, though the euro is believed to be much stronger in markets like the U.S dollar.

According to the Unification Ministry, one U.S. dollar was traded at around 3,800 won in markets in November, up from around 2,000 won in 2010.

Earlier this year, Hana Electronics JVC, a North Korean joint venture with a European company, opened a luxury restaurant and leisure facilities including a swimming pool and sauna in Pyongyang.

In 2009, the North also opened its first fast food restaurant, called Samtaeseong, which sells hamburgers, waffles and beer. A Singaporean company set up the restaurant while the North provides employees and food materials.

There are six fast food-selling stands on the streets of Pyongyang, a source said Sunday, that the North’s leader also ordered the establishment of such stands during a visit to an amusement park in Pyongyang in late 2009.

North Korea has relied on international handouts since the late 1990s, when a massive famine claimed an estimated 2 million lives. The U.N. World Food Program recently said a third of North Korean children under 5 are chronically malnourished.
 

(Yonhap News)

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