Mike Paarlberg ’02 is in pursuit of his Ph.D. in Comparative Government at Georgetown. But he’s also a music critic for the Washington CityPaper, a D.C. area newsweekly. And now, he’s taking a turn to features, writing last week’s engaging cover story for the CityPaper on Ma Young-Ae, the proprietor and North Korean defector who operates one of Northern Virginia’s better soondae (Korean blood sausage) restaurants:
Photo by Darrow Montgomery from The CityPaper

Ma’s latest incarnation of Pyongyang Soondae is as much a refugee aid office as a restaurant. She opened it on Nov. 1, after selling her restaurant in L.A. She devotes a portion of the restaurant proceeds to refugee rescue and relief work, and efforts to oppose the Pyongyang government. Of the approximately 15 North Koreans who have been resettled in the D.C. area under the North Korean Human Rights Act, eight work for Ma; two of them currently live with her. (She says they’ll move once they get on their feet.)

So far, business has been good. “Everyone is surviving,” Ma says, adding that she has been able to pay her employees on time. Most are North Korean. Besides Ma and her son, all go by fake names, worried of reprisals against family members back home. A 26-year-old waitress going by the name Kang I-Sul crossed the Tumen River three years ago and made it out of China through Mongolia. She and other servers politely answer questions from customers about the political situation, the famine, and other topics of curiosity that attract clientele to the restaurant as much as the food. (There is one non-Korean on staff, Mari Cruz, 26, from Honduras, who works as a kitchen assistant. Having worked in three Korean restaurants before, she says she is comfortable with the work. The only difference is the food. “And they don’t rip me off,” she says.)

But the real highlight was the story sidebar, with Paarlberg following in the footsteps of Travel Channel celebrities like Andrew Zimmern and his “Bizarre Foods” (and, to a lesser extent, Tony Bourdain) by trying more than just the soondae:

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.

More power to Paarlberg! And you know, Zimmern’s sense of humor is starting to get a little old. Maybe Mike Rosenblum ’76 will put Paarlberg in touch with his contacts at the Travel Channel

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