Silk Road experience in Central Asian Village
With multiculturalism emerging as a buzzword here, Central Asian migrants represent an increasingly prominent ingredient in the “salad bowl” that Korean society is becoming.
Nowhere is this more apparent than Seoul’s “Central Asian Village,” an enclave of immigrant-run businesses catering to the country’s Central Asian community. Located near Dongdaemun History and Culture Park Station, the eclectic neighborhood brings a bit of the Great Silk Road to the heart of Seoul.
Though not a residential district like the ethnic areas of other metropolises, a cursory look around leaves one with the impression they are no longer in Korea. Cyrillic signs dominate, Russian language fills the air, and faces from Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan become the norm.
With over 30,000 Mongolians living in Korea, it’s appropriate that they are the most represented group at the village. The 10-story Mongol Tower, otherwise known as Kumho Tower, is worth checking out, despite its non-descript exterior.
Its incense-fragranced halls are lined with travel agencies, cell phone shops and even a barber shop. Stop into a grocery store and buy some snacks, tea or liquor from a faraway land.
Zaluus, a restaurant on the third floor, is a lively, clean establishment serving an array of Mongolian cuisine, from buuz (dumplings), stews, to the popular khuushuur (a flaky pastry with a lamb filling).
Shaped by the extreme climate there, the Mongolian diet is primarily meat-based; expect this to be reflected in the menu. The beef stew is cooked to falling-off-the-bone quality and comes accompanied by generous portions of potatoes and slaw.
Though mostly frequented by Mongols, Zaluus is popular among expats from other Central Asian countries as well.
“The food here is tasty and affordable,” Sharafjon, a Tajikistani here by way of Uzbekistan, said. “So I come whenever I’m in the area.”
Sharafjon, who works with cars in a Seoul suburb, added the village is a place where the Central Asian community, in all its diversity, can come together harmoniously for a feeling of community.
Uzbekistan has also carved out its niche in the neighborhood, with several restaurants serving up its unique cuisine.
Cafe Uzbekistan, a small establishment hidden in one of the village’s narrow streets, offers up many of the country’s signature dishes and drinks in a laid back atmosphere.
Among its dishes is the popular chizbif _ fries topped with grilled lamb and onions, all of which goes down nicely with the restaurants selection of regional beer and liquor. Also popular are the kebabs, stews, and “samsa” (flaky pastries served hot).
Located nearby, another Uzbek establishment, Cafe Samarkand, has received positive reviews on various foodie blogs. Several bakeries in the area serve excellent pastries as well.
The owners and patrons at Central Asian Village communicate primarily in Russian, but generally speak excellent Korean as well; English-speakers should keep this in mind when navigating the area.
Central Asia Village is accessible from exits 5 and 12 of Dongdaemun History and Culture Park Station. To get to Mongol (Kumho) Tower, go out exit 12 and turn left at the first street. It is some 50 meters on the right.
To get to Cafe Uzbekistan, go out exit number five and walk until you see a Woori Bank. The restaurant is down the alley across the street from the bank.