The Mystery Burger On North Korea’s JS Inspires Endless Fascination

Open Jaw

On Air Koryo, North Korea's state airline, flight attendants are known to serve one thing, and one thing only: a burger as mysterious as the Hermit Kingdom itself. Of course the fact that they serve anything at all – at least without an upcharge -- is an upgrade on some Western carriers.

The burger is always served cold, and it perches prettily on a paper doily. Inside the bun is a piece of meat of uncertain provenance, a slice of processed cheese, either a little shredded cabbage or a lonely lettuce leaf, and a dollop of some kind of sweet, brown sauce.

How bad can it be? Open Jaw recalls being given something on an AA flight some years ago that came in an aluminum foil packet and had been heated to a near-molten state. Pax juggled them to avoid burns, and few were consumed.

But somehow the "Koryo Burger" has "gained cult status among passengers," as British tabloid The Daily Mail reported in 2015. It is featured in countless Instagram feeds and online reviews. Travellers wonder: Why a burger? What's with the doily? What exactly is that meat?

The burger is "huge" in terms of public fascination, Simon Cockerell, general manager of e Beijing-based travel company Koryo Tours (no relation to the airline) told the Los Angeles Times. "It's something that people are absolutely blown away by. And it's a piece of meat between two buns."

"I think it's just the incongruity of having a burger on a quote-unquote 'Communist' plane," said Cockerell. "But what else would they serve? You can't give everyone a bibimbap (a Korean mixed rice dish), and serving kimchi on a plane would be horrifying.

The meat is chicken, Cockerell said. A man who picked up the phone at Air Koryo's Beijing office confirmed that the airline "normally" serves burgers. Yet he could not confirm the type of meat. The mystery continues.


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