The chef who wields his skills at a restaurant with a long line of customers is a “North Korean chef”…! We sneak into an authentic restaurant in Chiba that serves “super authentic Pyongyang cold noodles”! | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The chef who wields his skills at a restaurant with a long line of customers is a “North Korean chef”…! We sneak into an authentic restaurant in Chiba that serves “super authentic Pyongyang cold noodles”!

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LINE
Mr. and Mrs. Katsumata running Seolnun

Pyongyang Cold Noodle Restaurant “Solnun” opened in Inage, Chiba City, on March 22 this year. The restaurant has become a thriving business with people lining up to try the authentic cold noodles that originated in North Korea in Japan.

Many people come from Tokyo and other prefectures. One customer said to me, “Please open a restaurant in Aoyama (Minato-ku, Tokyo)! I’m really grateful for the opportunity to keep busy. I am very grateful to be able to keep busy.

Smiling, Moon Young Hee (33) from Pyongyang, wife of Seong Katsumata (34), chef and owner of Seolnun, said, “I am very grateful to have been kept busy. The couple says they opened the restaurant in Inage because Katsumata’s (34) hometown is in Chiba Prefecture. They met in Seoul, Korea.

I had cold noodles at many restaurants in Korea, but I could not find the same taste that I have had since I was a child,” Katsumata said. My mother was a chef at a restaurant in the Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, and she was so good that she opened her own restaurant. I thought that if I could recreate the taste of my mother’s 40 years of experience, I could compete on my own with Pyongyang cold noodles.

Sympathizing with Mr. Moon’s dream, Mr. Katsumata closed the barbecue restaurant he was running in Seoul, and together with his wife, he studied the Pyongyang cold noodle recipe that was directly handed down from his mother. In April 2007, he opened the first Seolnun restaurant in Seoul. Three months later, they got married.

The couple’s Pyongyang-style cold noodles quickly became a hot topic of conversation, and the restaurant overcame the COVID-19 crisis to become a huge success. In other words, Solnun in Inage was their second restaurant.

I really wanted to open a restaurant in the U.S., but I had to give it up because of the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. Then my wife said, ‘I want to go to Japan,’ so I looked for a place in my hometown of Chiba,” said Katsumata.

Moon, who was born and raised in North Korea, is a “North Korean defector” who moved to South Korea in 2003, but his cheerful personality belies the hardships he has endured. Her husband is handsome, and I fell in love with him at first sight,” she told the reporter with a carefree smile. She is currently spending happy days with her 2-year-old son, but behind her smile lies an unimaginable past.

Moon revealed her own experience of defecting from North Korea.

I lived in Pyongyang and graduated from the prestigious Pyongyang University of Commerce, but I could not enter the army, which I had hoped to do. I became pessimistic about my life and future, thinking that I would not be able to step up if I stayed in North Korea. After much worry and discussion with my family, in ’15, I left my mother and younger brother behind and swam the Yalu River, which flows along the border, into China. When I went from Beijing to the Laotian border while communicating with a pastor there, I was caught by the Chinese public security and put in a detention center for 13 hours. In the end, it took about 10 days to get into the Korean embassy in Laos, and when I couldn’t eat anything in the mountains where I hid for two days during that time, I was prepared to die.”

Later, in ’16, he obtained Korean citizenship. He called his mother and brother. They took the ” slightly easier route than I did” (Mr. Moon) and succeeded in entering South Korea. The family worked together to open a restaurant in Seoul.

When we opened our restaurant in Seoul, my husband was introduced to us as a mentor for those of us who did not know what was right and what was left. I thought he was an old man, but I was surprised to see him as a young man (laughs). My husband kindly taught me everything, including how to purchase ingredients and seasonings. Even when he found out that I was a North Korean defector, he didn’t change his kindness, saying, ‘I came from Japan and had a hard time myself. Because he was there, I rarely felt hardship.”

It took Katsumata a year to recreate the taste of Moon’s mother’s Pyongyang cold noodle soup. Moon recalls.

My mother had bad knees and couldn’t stand up in the restaurant, so my husband worked very hard to learn. It is the result of his hard work and cooking sense. Now my husband does all the cooking.

Seolnun has become a popular restaurant with a long line of customers.

Pyongyang cold noodles at Solnun have a refreshingly cool and rich taste. The firm but soft noodles are soaked in the soup and you can’t help but finish it in one gulp. The price is set at 1,200 yen per bowl, which is low considering its gorgeous appearance.

Some people say it is too cheap, but we want as many Japanese people as possible to be able to enjoy Pyongyang cold noodles in a casual way. First of all, we plan to open more restaurants in Chiba. I don’t want to serve it in Tokyo, but I want people to come to my hometown, Chiba, to eat it! (laughs)” (Katsumata).

Mr. Moon is also very ambitious.

My husband and I are talking about eventually bringing ‘Solnun’ to the United States as well. (I worry about how my friends and relatives (in North Korea) are doing, and I miss them, but …… I will do my best in Japan. I am really happy to be here. I want to stay here for the rest of my life.”

With thoughts of North Korea in their hearts, the couple continues to make authentic Pyongyang cold noodles today.

  • Interview and text Kim Myeong-U PHOTO Hiroyuki Komatsu

Photo Gallery3 total

Photo Selection

Check out the best photos for you.

Related Articles