When Conflict Kitchen announced its new cuisine would be North Korean, it prompted a common question. Says cook Gabby Toborg: "A lot of the reaction we've been getting has been people questioning the food — like, 'What are you going to serve?'"
Conflict Kitchen is an Oakland takeout restaurant that serves cuisine from countries the United States is in conflict with. The latest iteration of its menu reflects North Korea's pervasive food shortages.
"We try not to waste any food, and that includes the water the noodles are boiled in," Toborg explains. "Sometimes we hand out the water to people in line just as a conversation starter."
The menu features North Korean staples such as bibimbop, vegetables on rice in gochujang, a sweet and spicy pepper sauce, perhaps washed down with sujeonggwa, a persimmon punch flavored with ginger and cinnamon. Among the specials are: soondae tteokbokki, a blood sausage dish; and hotteok, a sweet pancake stuffed with coconut, cinnamon and brown sugar.
Such specials would be doubly unusual in North Korea, where meat is hard to find and dessert isn't a priority. But the fare isn't as lacking in flavor or appeal as many might think. For instance, the dubu bap, a tofu pocket stuffed with rice, is topped with a sauce made from red-pepper flakes, sesame and sweet syrup. And presentation matters: The dishes contain colorful vegetables to make them visually appealing.