3.335 P31bO/Russia(35): Lamb Pelmeni

-Cycle 3, Item 335-
5 (Wed) December 2012

P31bO/Russia(35): Lamb Pelmeni


at Cafe Gostiniy Dvor

-Dongdaemun, Seoul-


Russia is the 35th consecutive country to be featured in the on-going Project 31 By Origin (see previously 3.334 P31bO/UAE(34): Bamiya).

Cafe Gostiniy Dvor is a Russian restaurant.  It's located in the Central Asian neighborhood near Dongdaemun (see generally 1.142 Goluptsy), where P31bO/Uzbekistan had been featured as the second country of the project (see 3.301 Plov).  I found the place listed on (see on Gostiniy Dvor).

With fresh powder from Seoul's first snowfall of the winter blanketing the city, Russian food seemed like a good idea.

When I got there, 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, my wife 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 (see Wikipedia on pelmeni).  It's a Russian staple (see Wikipedia on Russian cuisine), one of country's national dishes.  Quite apropos of this evening, 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.

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 (see 3.117 Kartofel s Gribami), a 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 than necessary to complete P31bO/Russia at a bare minimum.

In my recent post for P31bO/Mongolia, I mentioned again the tendency of Central Asian restaurants in Korea to accept only cash payment (see 3.315 P31bO/Mongolia(15): Khuushuur).  On this occasion, thinking myself well-prepared, I confirmed in advance that I could pay by credit card (of course, I had to take out my wallet and show the woman the actual piece of plastic to get the question across).  But when it came time to settle the bill, she demanded a 10% surcharge.  I just laughed, signed the check, and got the hell out.  

Baltika Beer 9, a Russian lager with a whopping 8% alcohol content, 
making it taste somewhat like a boilermaker or malt liquor than a proper beer.

Not entirely satisfied with my Russian experience, I ventured into the Russian Mart located in the same building.  I ended up purchasing a bottle of Russian Shot vodka (22,000 won) and a Russian pork-beef sausage (16,000 won), which I took home to eat.  The sausage was excellent, somewhere between ham and salami in both texture and taste.  The vodka, not so much.  I'll definitely be going back for more of the sausage.    


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I went there once, it was excellent. You should try the beer, and esp. the russian pancake.
    The atmosphere when I was there was homelike and cozy, though. But in another time when I went to a Kazakhstan restaurant nearby, it was pretty scary when bald men walking to and fro speaking Slavic language.

  3. @Lisa: oops sorry, i accidentally deleted your comment (for others, it said something about how i should've taken some people with me for protection rather than going alone). well, right, because on any given day, i expect to run into gangsters? and who would've protected me from them anyway?

    @Anonymous: yes, other reviews that i've read about the place did seem generally positive. i was just trying to make light of the odd circumstances of my visit. maybe next time i'll be able to try other foods, including the pancake. thanks for the tip.

  4. censoring me now i see. i'm all for solo trips to different restaurants (i do it all the time for lunch and on business trips) but probably not to a place i've never been to before.

  5. Lol they pulled the credit card thing on you.. I guess our/my rule about not trusting Central Asian restauranteers in Seoul/Korea still holds up and/or should be expanded to "do not trust restauranteers from the former USSR"..

  6. @lisa: even funnier than eating solo in restaurants during this project, a lot of the restaurants have been completely empty except for me and whomever i'm with (if at all). i'll do a final tally when i get around to breaking down the stats.

    @gustaf: SERIOUSLY, right?!?!? there must be some kind of Former USSR Satellite Countries Chamber of Commerce that publishes a manual on this bullshit. no other regional groups do it. it can't just be a coincidence anymore.