Sometimes people ask me–the self-proclaimed food critic–where they can get real Vietnamese food in Korea, and my immediate answer is always “Ansan”. Sound strange? Yeah it’s not in Seoul. Ansan–a city in Gyeonggi-do–lies to the south of Seoul and is connected to the capital via Seoul subway line 4. It’d take at least 1.5 hour to get to Ansan from Seoul center. The ride, albeit convenient, is an arduous one: the further you are from Seoul, the shakier the train. Yet at the end of the journey, you are rewarded with the truly authentic Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, Chinese, Uzbekistani, Indian, and Nepalese fare at amazing prices.
Ansan feels totally non-Korean. Once you step out of Ansan subway station exit 1, you are surrounded by a babel of foreign languages and non-Korean faces. Think of it as Itaewon–the foreign “district” in Seoul. But instead of relaxed Westerners looking for a restaurant where they can get a taste of home, or groups of Chinese tourists haggling with street vendors, here in Ansan, the foreigners are working immigrants. That said, restaurants here–run by foreigners themselves–are not aimed at tourists, but rather at their fellow countrymen. Thus you don’t have to worry that the food sucks, or that the prices are too high, for this kind of restaurant would not survive here.
Some time ago I had a meal of revelation at My Friend & ALA-TOO @ Dongdaemun, Seoul. I was immensely impressed with their samsa, shashlik, and plov and thought that there could be no Uzbekistani restaurant better than this. How wrong I was. In Ansan, the lowcarb buddy and I had another moment of revelation, of utmost joy and an emotional outburst when we bit on Samarkand Kafe’s samsas.
The samsas (3000 KRW) at Samarkand Kafe were huge, seriously huge. And they tasted like heaven. The crust was flaky like the finest Portuguese egg tarts, and the filling of tender lamb and chopped onions was seasoned perfectly.
Every bite an angel sings~:
If samsas were a big surprise, their plov blew our minds away. It was just out of this world. I couldn’t figure our how they managed to infuse each grain of rice with so much flavor. The hearty heft of lamb on top was gorgeously tender. Stuffing myself with spoonful after spoonful, I felt the smile on my face grow wider as this Russian specialty melted in my mouth.
While samsas and plov were the BOMB–the shashliks were not as good as what we had at My Friend and Ala-too. However, they were still definitely delicious:
Samarkand opened at 11am. The friend and I were the first customers (at ~11:05), after 15 minutes, half of the restaurant’s space was filled with Russian-speaking people. This was definitely a popular place among local eaters.
I forgot the direction. But you can just get out of Ansan station exit 1 and walk along the main street (you can’t miss it–it is full of street vendors and is always crowded). You can spot Samarkand Kafe in a nearby corner.
to be continued