Dongdaemun, meaning Big East Gate, is a very large district that has both giant shopping centers and street markets. Much of the Dongdaemun is under construction, but the bulk of this area is as generic as any fashion district gets. However, just a few minutes southwest of these huge buildings thrives a small ghetto of central Asian culture. You will see more Uzbekis, Kazakhis, Russians, and Mongolians than Koreans around this area. At night, the perimeter of Dongdaemun comes alive with yellow tents offering market goods and Korean street food. The two hostels in this area are Able and Dongdaemun guesthouse. My 2012 Sluttiest Mome took place in Dongdaemun Guesthouse. They do expensive, tiny private rooms with a shower next to the bed. Try Able first.
Uzbek, not Korean food, is what I look forward to when I go to Seoul. 90% of what you can eat in Seoul, you can find in Busan, and half of what's left is gimmick.
Simple cuisine, lamb, potato, onion, vinaigrette, and dill. Dill everywhere, on everything. I thought I hated dill, but that was before I discovered Uzbek food.
My favorite restaurant in all of Seoul is Fortune. It is my vacation away from Korea. I can eat without having to grill my own food and getting grease and fumes on my clothes. It's my vacation from Korea, where I can just point to some pictures, drink Russian alcohol and watch campy Slavic music videos while I wait. Hookah is also available. Come hungry because the side dishes are a must- particularly meat pastries and dessert.
Fuck everything else in this picture, look at that pile of orange. Marovshka, oily slivered carrots in a vinaigrette. I don't like anything about carrots, but somehow, marovshka goes with anything. They are similar to the pickled carrots in a banh mi but with more flavor, and a bit sweet. The fresh bread and marovshka alone could make a meal. If this isn't a quintessential side dish in Uzbek cuisine, it should be.
For soup, the shurpa is a must. In fact, it’s probably the only option. What else is there, solyanka? That stuff is just shitty tom yum kha as far as I’m concerned. Oddly enough, I only have a picture of solyanka, which I wont bother to post.
Dumplings are omnipresent in Eastern European cuisine, and you won’t be surprised to find pelmini on Fortune’s menu. But when it comes to little sides, I always come back to two meat pastries: Samsa and blinshiki. These two are the favorites of everyone I’ve taken to Uzbek food.
Samsa, a flaky lamb and onion bake for only 3k.
This is blinshiki, the minced lamb crepe, eaten with a tomato sauce and sour cream. This was actually taken from this night.
You can't go wrong with either pastry, and you would do better to order both. Samsa if you like it flaky, blinshiki if you like it crêpey. After eating dozens of Samsa, I now prefer to go with the Blinshiki. The lamb is minced, and has much more of a garlic than onion flavor.
This is a picture of a half-eaten chiz biz. This is THE best Uzbek dish for beginners and pros alike. Don't let the simplicity fool you. It's the best damn pile of lamb, onions, and fried potatoes this side of Greektown. The fat of the lamb is so rich you'd think it was cream. This pile of heaven is lightly seasoned with dill and tastes wonderful with red vinaigrette, black pepper, or naked. I've even eaten it with a drizzle of white vinegar. Like an identity theorem, there's just no way to fuck it up. However, if you prefer your lamb and potatoes less greasy and more tender, I recommend the Kazan kabop.
Most entrees are under 10k. Meat skewers, shashliki, are about 4k. The chicken skewer is prepared with delicious fat, crispy skin, and joints. The lamb and sausage skewers are great too, but shashliki is a bit too simple for me. Plus, I feel guilty tainting that precious meat with the vinaigrette, whereas the potato and onion filler that comes with most entrees is made to be doused in sauce.
They remix the chicken but leave the egg inside...and the bone untouched. Very odd.
Bottom-right: Something that sucks.
I've had some busts at Fortune as well. The re-constituted chicken meatball on a bone was okay. The pasta is sauceless and bland, and so is the chicken fillet covered in fried egg with potato titties. They aren’t awful, just obsolete when placed on a menu with chiz biz and the like.
This spicy pork salad is from Fusion, formerly known as Rose. It is a Uzbek-Korean fusion restaurant on the other side of the street. I'm sure Fortune is quite competent at serving desserts, but I like to get mine at Fusion. I recommend the medivik, a layered honey cake, something like a Napoleon, but moist not flaky. Honey butter crepes are good if you like hot dessert.
There are other small Uzbek kitchen-holes and I've never had a bad experience at any. Samarkand is one such restaurant with a solid reputation (half of all Uzbek restaurants are named Samarkand). There's also Rata bakery. They microwave stale pastries (meat or sweet) made in Fortune's kitchen for cheap. Sounds bad but on the scale of things, it's still leaps and bounds better than bad Korean food.
Where you should go ultimately depends on who you're bringing. If she's wife material, go to Fortune. If he's disposable or doesn't appreciate fine dining like most men don't, bring him to Samarkand. If the bitch is just a spittoon, tie her leash to a pole and pick up some dollar-fifty leftovers from Rata.
To get to any of these places, go to Dongdaemun History and Culture Park subway stop, exit 5. Turn right and walk towards the Paris Baguette. Walk left on this main road. Rata bakery is on the left, and right past that is Fortune Kebab. Fortune is right above it.
Across the street between Fortune and the Paris Baguette is Fusion. The other small Uzbek restaurants are not far down the side streets on that side.