- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 8, 2004

SEOUL — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il — a reputed gourmet — may now claim the title of his nation’s burger king after having introduced the quintessential American fast food to the world’s most staunchly communist state.

But if past practice is a guide, North Koreans will get it his way.

The South Korean press yesterday quoted from a recent article in North Korea’s Minju Joseon (Democratic Korea) magazine, which stated that “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il first promoted hamburgers and fries in 2000.

“Despite our country’s economic hardships, I am determined that our students and researchers should eat top-quality bread and french fries,” he reportedly said.

Shortly thereafter, a hamburger factory was built in the country to supply the delicacy and came to be known as the “October 30” factory after the date Mr. Kim ordered its construction, the North Korean magazine reported.

The burgers — dubbed “gogigyeopbbang,” which is Korean for “double bread with meat” — are now reportedly commonplace among students in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

Visitors to a state-run festival in 2002 were also surprised to find vendors selling pizza and soda — and being advised that “they go well together.” Coca Cola, however, continues to be reviled as the “cesspool water of American capitalism.”

North Korea went through widespread famines in the 1990s, which left as much as 10 percent of its population dead.

Mr. Kim — who unlike most North Koreans is noticeably overweight — is known as a bon vivant with a taste for lobster, handmade pizza and the finest cognac.

“Kim Jong-il may be the only fat man in the country, but perhaps this move proves that he has some sympathy for his people, as for most North Koreans, a hamburger would be a highly calorific meal,” said Michael Breen, the Seoul-based author of “Kim Jong-il: North Korea’s Dear Leader.”

“It also shows the level of micromanagement and control in a nation where, be it on a chicken farm in the countryside or a burger factory in the capital, Kim has to give his seal of approval, or official media feel that they have to attribute the introduction of any innovation to him,” Mr. Breen said.

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