City Paper is not for tourists
The words “North Korean food” conjure up images of…nothing. Pyongyang Soondae’s location in Northern Virginia, rather than its namesake city, means its kitchen has access to a bounty unavailable to most North Koreans. This alone makes it a novelty. Considering the homogeneity and small size of the Korean peninsula, one might expect food that’s little different from the Korean joints that already dominate Little River Turnpike.
I certainly did. As a hapa Korean American from Fairfax, I grew up on Korean food, and thought I’d tried every combination of kimchi, barbecue, and red pepper paste possible.
However, I hadn’t tried roasted chicken rectum before. The dish (called ddak ddong jib, or “chicken shit house” in the wonderfully literal Korean language) is not uniquely North Korean—they have it in the South as well, just not at your typical restaurant. The dish is late-night drunk food, a Korean version of jumbo slice: spicy, heavy, and designed to soak up the soju after a hard night out.
I had it stone-cold sober and in the middle of the day, and it was pretty tasty. The rectums are chewy, with a texture similar to gluten-based meat substitutes. And you get your money’s worth: eight to ten of them on a bed of onions and peppers is $10.
But Pyongyang Soondae’s name references its sausage, the North’s other big contribution to Korean cuisine after naengmyun, a cold noodle dish. Its soondae are made with pork mixed with rice and vermicelli noodles. The sausage is quite good, though not so much a meal in itself—better ordered as a side dish for a soup or larger plate. A nice option is the soondae regular meal, which pairs a sampling of sausage with a fermented fish dish or plate of pheasant dumplings. The pork liver and intestine soup is good for those who, well, like liver and intestines. Otherwise, the seafood pancakes, with more grains in the flour-squid-shellfish batter, are delicious and less greasy than the haemul pajun of the South.
Another surprise is how mild the dishes are. Koreans love to add red pepper to everything, whether fresh or in powder or paste form. Combined with generous helpings of kimchi, a good meal is eye-watering and nasal-passage-opening. But at Pyongyang Soondae, chef and owner Ma Young-Ae chooses to leave her dishes mostly unseasoned, letting the customer choose how much pepper and vinegar to add at the table.
Servers do not speak English. But non-Korean speakers will be able to make it through the menu, which has English translations, by pointing. Most items are between $6 and $12. Famine jokes are probably not appreciated, so do not ask for grass or bark.
Pyongyang Soondae, 6499 Little River Turnpike, Annandale. (202) 360-2746. Hours: Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.