a north korean restaurant... in northern virginia?

This is a really fascinating Washington City Paper cover story Pyongyang Soondae, in northern Virginia. It's got all the typical kimchee dishes and stuff... but this is definitely not your typical Korean restaurant: Hermit Kitchen.

The restaurant's advertised specialty is the authentic cold noodle dish "Pyongyang naengmyun," which apparently attracts customers from all over the region. But what makes this restaurant really stand out is the story of its owner, Ma Young-Ae -- a former North Korea spy:
A little more than a decade ago, Ma was an undercover agent for North Korea’s Ministry of Public Security, conducting drug investigations. Her job was to bust smugglers—farmers, mostly—who were exporting opium to China. It was an odd assignment, considering the North Korean government’s documented involvement in the drug trade itself: along with weapons and counterfeit “superdollars,” opium has been a key source of revenue for the cash-strapped regime. Ma says her job was a bit less righteous: She was tasked with busting smugglers operating without government approval.

Besides a slight North Korean accent—pronouncing ni as nei—there is little that would make Ma stand out among Northern Virginia’s large Korean community.

Until she gets to talking about politics, that is. A devout Christian with the zeal of a convert—she found Jesus in South Korea, where she lived after abandoning the atheist North—Ma is waging a missionary campaign against the state that once employed her. Her political activities are evident on the walls of her restaurant, decorated with pictures of her with Hillary Clinton and members of the South Korean parliament. She travels to New York frequently to lead protests at the offices of the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, the only official North Korean delegation in the U.S. Last year, following North Korea’s controversial sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, she was back, waving a picket sign at the ambassador. She says a North Korean official pulled her aside to growl at her: “Where do you think you are, bitch?” she recalls, through an interpreter. “You just watch. We will kill you.”
Be sure to read the story, which chronicles the long, crazy journey that led Ma from the ranks of the North Korean government to eventually opening this Korean restaurant -- which sort of doubles as a refugee aid office -- on Little River Turnpike. Oh, and in case you're wondering, here's Pyongyang Soondae's Yelp page. (Nothing really there yet.)

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