Best 7 Russian and Central Asian eats in Seoul

Best 7 Russian and Central Asian eats in Seoul

Seoul's top seven restaurants featuring cuisines of the former Soviet Union
Siberia Grille and Bar.
The Lazy Blini at Siberia Grille and Bar.

The Soviet Union may have crumbled two decades ago, but its various cuisines are alive and well. Thanks to a thriving community of ethnic-Korean immigrants from Russia and the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, there’s no shortage of authentic and amazing eats here in Seoul.  

Many of these restaurants are located in the Russian/Central Asian neighborhood outside exit 5 of the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park subway station.

But before you head out, load up a map of the area on a GPS device and bring along a Russian phrase book. While the menus at all locations have English and Korean translations, russkiĭ is the lingua franca on the streets here. 

1. Gostiny Dvor

Gostiny DvorPelmeni at Gostiny Dvor.

Gostiny Dvor looks rather like a Russian family’s living room, with dim light emanating from chandeliers and a TV on the wall that seems to be permanently fixed to some Russian satellite channel.  

If you’re looking for authentic Russian food, just like the kind your babushka used to make, then you’ve come to the right place. Chef Alexander Park says Gostiny Dvor serves only dishes from Russia and not from other former Soviet republics, unlike most of the restaurants in the neighborhood.

Even borscht, he says, is too Ukrainian. For a hearty Russian dinner, Park recommends the beef stroganoff. If that’s not filling enough for you, get a plate of pelmeni--dumplings covered in sour cream.  

288-1 Gwangui-dong Jung-gu (중구 광희동 288-1); +82 2 2275 7501  

2.  Kazakhstan 

Pilaf at Kazakhstan.

The people of Kazakhstan have a long and close relationship with horses. For centuries, equines carried them into battle as they conquered new territory.

At Dongdaemun’s Kazakhstan restaurant, there’s a relief hanging on the wall of some of these great stallions galloping across the vast Central Asian steppes.

It’s a great image to reflect upon as you eat Kazakhstan’s national dish besbarmak, boiled horsemeat served on a plate of dough.  

Of course there are other meats on the menu here as well, including skewers of grilled chicken and lamb as well as pork dumplings. Add in a bottle or two of Baltika, one of Russia’s most famous beers.

Just be careful going back down the four flights of stairs to the street.  

76-2 Gwanghui-dong Jung-gu (중구 광희동 76-2); +82 2 2269 7505         

3.  Ala Do Russian Bakery 

Medovnik at Ala Do.

When Ala Do opened-up in 2003, it was the only Russian-style bakery in Seoul.  

Eight years later, it’s still the only Russian-style bakery in Seoul.    

That’s according to owner Louisa Kang, originally from Tashkent, who says whether you’re in the mood for savory or sweet, her shop that will satisfy your appetite.

Try the freshly baked breads as well as the meat-filled pastries which are called samsa and hachapuri. And no Russian meal is complete without a cup of tea and a slice of a sugary cake.  

Ala Do’s display case features several yummy desserts, but Kang says her personal favorite is medovnik, a cake that goes heavy on the honey.     

154-1  Gwanghui-dong 1-ga, Jung-gu (중구 광희동 154-1); +82 2 2277 9211                      

4. Samarikant  

Shaslek at Samarikant.

Paris or Venice are often considered to be the world’s most romantic cities. Not so, says the staff at Samarikant. In their opinion, the correct answer is the Uzbek city that grants this Dongdaemun institution  its name. 

It might be a stretch, but owner Shahriyour Hon says he’s started a love affair between Koreans and lamb, one sashlik, or shish kabob, at a time.

“When we opened our restaurant, almost no Koreans ate lamb, they said it smelled funny,” Hon says. “But tastes here have changed.”

He points to his several other locations in Seoul, Incheon, Busan and Daegu, which mainly serve Korean guests, as proof that lamb is no longer seen as some strange or exotic meat here.            

162 Gwanghui-dong 1-ga Jung-gu (중구, 광희동1가 162); +82 2 2277 4261  

5. Siberia Grille and Bar                    

Siberia Grille and BarIt's unclear if the Kremlin has dispatched spies to get their hands on the recipe for the K-G-Blini at Siberia Grille and Bar.

Back in Soviet times, mixing with the West could have landed you in a Siberian gulag. But at the Siberia Grille and Bar, only good things result from combining Russian and American cuisines. 

One popular fusion dish on the menu is the bacon, egg and cheese blini, a sort of thin crepe, filled with artery-clogging deliciousness.  

Even though this restaurant is trying to appeal to a broader clientele by also offering burgers and chicken wings, it still takes its Russian dishes very seriously.  

Owner Zhanna Pudul, who came to Seoul from Novosibirsk more than a decade ago, says if Siberia’s borscht isn’t red enough, her Russian customers would send it back.  

Pudul notes that her hometown has a bad rap due to the old prison camps and hopes her restaurant can help change that image.  

140-200 Itaewon-2-dong Yongsan-gu (용산구 이태원2동 140-200); +82 70 4112 2113    

6.  Eurasia 

Matthew Douma/CNNGoGroodinka at Eurasia.

The dream of the Bolshevik Revolution was to unite nations of the West and East to form a Eurasian workers’ utopia.

Eurasia's Yuliya Unyayeva had a similar dream, but instead of guns, tanks and Marxist ideology, her weapons of choice are food, music and dance.   

Eurasia blends the culinary traditions of Russia and Unyayeva’s native Kazakhstan and is known to throw some wild parties that feature performances from both countries as well.

One recommendation is groodinka, chicken served over rice with smoked cheese, cucumber and bacon. 

You can also drink Russian cognac from a one-meter-long bottle shaped like a sword, which might help loosen you up on the dance floor.      

27-3 Daehyung-dong Seodaemun-gu (서대문구 대현동 27-3); +82 2 393 7011  

7. Troika 

TroikaAzu Pork Stew at Troika.

In ancient Slavic tradition, the birch tree was worshiped as a symbol of purity and femininity.  

As you ascend Troika’s staircase, you’re surrounded by paintings of this black and white wood. And inside the restaurant, an artificial birch looms over some of the tables.

But while this tree serves as Troika’s centerpiece, many of the customers here come to worship the bar, which is stocked with booze from all around the former Soviet Union.

A shot of Russian vodka goes great with selyodochka, raw herring served with onion and garlic. Troika also serves Georgian wine and Armenian brandy. Put a shot of that in your black tea and you have a drink that is sure to keep you and all your comrades warm.            

119-29 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu (용산구 이태원동 119-29); +82 2 797 7724 

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Jason Strother is a freelance journalist who has been based in Seoul since 2006. He holds a BA in Broadcasting from Montclair State University in his home state of New Jersey and a MA in International Relations from the UK's University of Kent. His work can be found on his homepage

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