Cycle 3 – Item 335
5 (Wed) December 2012
at Cafe Gostiniy Dvor
-Gwanghui, Jung, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
Project 30/30/30: 35 of 45 (see also 45/45/45)
Throughout the past November, I challenged myself to eat 30 dishes from 30 countries over the course of 30 consecutive days – and succeeded. I will continue the project until I run out of dishes or countries or restaurants or steam or money, aiming for 50.
Russia is the 35th country.
Cafe Gostiniy Dvor is a Russian restaurant.
When I opened the door and walked inside, I found 4 people inside, all Eurasian in appearance, 2 men standing, 1 man and 1 woman sitting at a table. Whatever they’d been discussing, they shut up immediately and simultaneously upon my entrance, as if I’d interrupted them in the midst of planning a bank heist. They looked at me in silence. After an uncomfortable few seconds of complete stillness, having considered the possibility of backing out before they killed me for seeing too much, I asked in English: “Open?” Silence. In Korean: “Are you open for business?” Silence. Suddenly, one of the standing men spoke to me, in what sounded like Russian, not just a phrase but an extended statement that seemed to constitute several sentences. When he was finished, without giving me a chance to blink, he motioned to the other standing man, and they walked out together. Silence.
At this point, I probably also should’ve left, but I didn’t want the men to suspect that I was following them. Instead, turning to the seated couple, I asked in English: “Do you speak English? Silence. In Korean: “Do you speak Korean?” The woman shook her head and replied, again presumably in Russian, with something that ended with “russki.” I stood there for a moment, wondering what to do. She looked at her companion, who shrugged, and then looked back at me and pantomimed spooning food into her mouth while raising her eyebrows in query. I nodded. She got up and brought me a menu. I sat down. Later, W speculated that maybe the place is a front for the Russian mob.
Pelmeni is a Russian dumpling. It consists of meat – typically lamb and/or pork and/or beef – encased in a thin dough wrapper, boiled in water, served with butter and/or sour cream. Pelmeni originated from the Siberian/Ural regions of northern Russia, where the dumplings were traditionally stored outside in the freezing cold. The term, which means “ear-shaped bread,” derives from various Finnic languages native to the area. It’s a Russian staple, one of country’s national dishes.
At Cafe Gostiniy Dvor, the pelmeni were okay. I ordered the lamb. The wrappers, apparently hand-made, were nicely dense and chewy. Much better than the ones at Troika, another Russian restaurant in Itaewon. Each dumpling here contained a cashew-sized/shaped nugget of ground lamb. Sparingly seasoned, allowing the meat flavor to come through, the filling was a tad too gamy for my tastes. The sour cream topping helped. At 8,000 won per plate, and other dishes somewhere close, I could’ve sampled some more food, but I didn’t want to spend any additional time in the restaurant.
Incidentally, they refused my credit card and demanded cash.
(See also BOOZE)
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)
(See also RESTAURANTS IN KOREA)