What Did Bill Clinton and Kim Jong Il Eat?


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We don't know what Bill Clinton and Kim Jong Il ate during the two-hour-long dinner that ended in the North Korean leader's decision to release two American journalists who had been imprisoned since March.

But we can be sure that they ate well. If it was a former American president's presence that sealed the deal, the North Korean despot certainly considered it a special occasion--one, it must be said, in a country ravaged by malnutrition and poverty.

Clinton's appetite for food--especially of the fast variety--is well-documented. And while North Korea's "Dear Leader" is a notorious recluse, reports of his epicurean--and at times bizarre--eating habits have been surfacing in recent years, thanks to revelations from his former chefs.

"He particularly enjoyed raw fish so fresh that he could start eating as its mouth is still gasping and the tail is still thrashing," said former chef Kenji Fujimoto, who wrote a book called I Was Kim Jong-il's Cook, which was excerpted in The Atlantic in 2004.

Other highlights from Fujimoto's book:

Kim has an exceptional palate:

I was preparing sushi in the Number 8 Banquet Hall. All of a sudden Kim Jong Il said, "Fujimoto, today's sushi tastes a little different."

He had had a lot to drink that evening before the meal, and I suggested that maybe that was the reason.

He replied, "Maybe..." He seemed doubtful, but didn't pursue it any further.

However, when I returned to the kitchen, I checked the seasoning used that day and found that the sugar was ten grams less than usual! Kim Jong Il was the only one who had noticed. Even I was astonished at this.

He's a perfectionist about his rice:

With respect to rice, before cooking it a waiter and a kitchen staff member would inspect it grain by grain. Chipped and defective grains were extracted; only those with perfect form were presented.

And he requests foods from all over the world:

Here are the countries I visited and the foods I frequently bought there:

* Urumqi (in northwestern China) for fruit, mainly hamigua melons and grapes
* Thailand for fruit, mostly durians, papayas, and mangoes
* Malaysia for fruit, mostly durians, papayas, and mangoes
* Czechoslovakia for draft beer
* Denmark for pork
* Iran for caviar
* Uzbekistan for caviar
* Japan for seafood

His other favorite foods are more conventional, like French cheeses and pizza--a food he likes so much, he hired an Italian pizza chef to make pies for him and teach other North Koreans how to make it. (He's written about his experiences, too, in a series of articles titled "I Made Pizza for Kim Jong-il".)

But the food prefererence that may have served him best in his negotiations with junk-food loving Clinton? Hamburgers. Kim reportedly likes them so much, he told the North Korean people he invented them; the country just opened its first fast food restaurant.

Presented by

Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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