Dongdaemun’s Gwanghui-dong: Gateway to Central Asia

 

Seoul has slowly built its profile as an international city. People from every corner of the world have made their homes in the metropolitan area, either to work or study. The city hosts small communities of foreign nationals, and amongst them are people hailing from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, including Russians, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, and Mongolians. Dongdaemun station, though associated with shopping and its modern design plaza, is the home of the Central Asian community in Seoul. Known for centuries as Gwanghui-dong, the neighborhood is the only place in the metropolis with a concentration of Russian markets, bakeries, and restaurants. There are also CIS-style magazine shops, banks, travel agencies, currency exchanges, phone sellers, and other shops located there. Dongdaemun’s Central Asian district is worth a visit for its authentic Central Asian cuisine and its window upon the various cultures of the nearby region. 

To get to Gwanghui-dong, one should take Seoul’s green line or light blue line to Dongdaemun History and Culture Center station. The area can be accessed from exits 5 and 8 from subway line 4, and exits 11 and 12 from subway line 2. The Central Asian part is two long streets of shops, restaurants, motels, and residences. The first street is most accessible. While there are Cyrillic signs and Central Asia themed businesses, Korean style restaurants dominate the street. From exit 5, people should turn right and walk straight until they reach the first street, Euljiro 44-Gil. From exit 8, pedestrians should turn right, then turn left at the Starbucks on the corner and go straight to reach the street. From exits 11 and 12, pedestrians can walk either right or left around the Lotte Fitin building. If walking to the right side, Euljiro 44-Gil will be the first street they run into. The Central Asian businesses of Gwanghui-dong can be visited on Euljiro 44-Gil and the street parallel to it, Toeigye- Ro. 

Dongdaemun has places that are important hubs for local Russian, Mongolian, and Uzbek communities. The Russian restaurant Chameleon’s serve Russian cuisine and alcohol. The menu includes shaslik, borscht, and salads. Though there are other Russian restaurants in Seoul like CCCP, Chameleon and the nearby Mongol Town are one part that visitors should look at. Gwanghui-dong is referred to as Mongol Town by Mongolian expats because of a building that houses a Mongolian store and a couple of restaurants. Mongol Town is an excellent place to go for Mongolian food, products, and businesses. It is located in the middle of Euljiro 44-Gil, next to the Lotte Fitin building, a large skyscraper that holds designer shops and smaller kiosks. Often, there will be groups of Mongolian men standing outside the building chatting. 

There are a few restaurants to visit that serve Uzbek, Mongolian, and Russian food. The Uzbek restaurants Samarkand and Fortune Restaurant are popular, long-time establishments. Fortune Restaurant is on the second floor of a building on Mareun-nae Ro. It is on the fringes of the majority of the Central Asian businesses. However, many locals praise the quality of the food despite the extra walking distance. Fortune Restaurant serves typical Uzbek food, such as shaslik, plov, meat dumplings and pies, soups, and meat dishes. Fortune has a lengthy menu with all sorts of meat including chicken, lamb, beef, and fish. Samarkand is located on the second street in Gwanghui-dong, Toeigye-Ro. Other Uzbek restaurants can be found on this street. Like Fortune Restaurant, it also has a long list of menu items, but is bigger and has more tables. The average price for most Uzbek meals is about eight to twenty thousand won depending on the dish and side dishes ordered. For Mongolian food, the restaurants are located in the Mongolia Town building. They are called Zaluus Restaurant and Ulaan Baatar Restaurant. Both restaurants serve buuz, khuushuur(pronounced hushur), fried noodles, soup, and vegetable side dishes. Generally, buuz and khuushur are both Mongolian staples and popular with foreigners. Mongolian buuz is a fried meat dumpling that has meaty juice inside. It is eaten in a way so that the juice is sucked from the dumpling interior. Khuushuur is a thicker type of dumpling. They are both fried in safflower oil, so anyone eating Mongolian food should be conscious of the amount of oil used. Both restaurants give the option of eating lamb or beef for most of their dumplings. Mongolian food is a lot cheaper than Uzbek, and can cost less than ten thousand won if buuz or khuushuur are ordered. The aforementioned Russian restaurant Chameleon has Russian food that largely mirrors that of the Uzbek restaurants. Mongolian food is quite different from Russian and Uzbek food.

Bakeries and markets are another feature of the area. There are at least four markets and bakeries in the Gwanghui-dong area. Ulaan Baatar Restaurant has a store attached to it that sells Mongolian food products. It is located in the Mongol Town building. Two markets sit on Toeigye-Ro and Mareun-Nae Ro. They are Russian markets that sell a variety of Russian and Central Asian foodstuffs. They sell alcohol such as Russian beers like Baltika, Armenian wines, and various vodkas. Other foods include Russian meats and sausages, German and Russian chocolates, and Russian cheeses. Imperia Foods has a small kitchen and bakery. The market has a small, fast- food style restaurant that has standard Central Asian dishes at relatively low prices. Megobuk, another market, has various products such as snacks, meats, and drinks along with a small bakery section. It has dark whole wheat bread that sells for three thousand won. The final bakery is actually a small cafe on Toeigye-Ro. It is a small, clean place with a few tables and cases that showcase slices of Russian and Ukrainian style cake. They sell pastries, teas, and coffee as well. 

Visitors can experience and interact with the various Central Asian nation’s people and cultures in Gwanghui-dong. Newcomers can look around or try the restaurants and markets. Beyond that, they can mingle with Central Asians and Russians living in Seoul that often frequent the establishments. Samarkand holds a special New Year’s party every December 31st. Prices often run upwards of 120,000 Korean won per person. There are other opportunities to meet people in the Gwanghui-dong community. Seoul used to have a Russian language meetup, but currently there aren’t any organized. There also aren’t any language academies teaching Russian at the current time. However, there are many opportunities to learn Russian online. For example, Preply is a website that has listings for over 440 Russian language tutors. Speaking Russian goes a long way in Dongdaemun. It’s a necessary step to starting meaningful friendships with native Russian speakers. Some community residents attend the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church in Mapo-Gu and the Russian Orthodox Church in Yongsan-Gu on Sundays. Attending orthodox church can be a way to meet local Russians and Central Asians. Nearby Gwanghui-dong there is the Megabox cinema and Sparex sauna in the Good Morning City building, which is located across the street from Euljiro 44-Gil. Both are frequented by many Central Asian residents living near. Spending time in Gwanghui-dong to try the food, rub elbows with locals, or to explore the area can be a rewarding experience that offers numerous opportunities for cultural enrichment. 

 

Further information

 

Fortune Restaurant

 

Address Seoul, Jung-gu, Gwanghuidong 1(il )ga, Mareunna-ro, 154 2 Chung

Hours 10 AM- 10 PM

Phone number 02- 2278-7770

 

Zaalus Restaurant

 

Address Seoul, Jung-gu, Gwanghuidong 1(il)- ga, Eulji-ro 44-gil, 12 New Geumho Tower

Hours 10 AM- 10 PM

Phone number  02- 2277-5418

 

Samarkand

 

Address 14 Euljiro 42-gil, Jung-gu First Floor, Seoul

Hours 10 AM- 10 PM

Phone number 02- 2279-7780

 

 

Ulaan Baatar Restaurant

 

Address Seoul, Jung-gu, Gwanghui-dong, Eulji-ro 44-gil, 12 2 chung

Hours 9 AM- 10 PM

Phone number 02-2265-6565

 

Chameleon

 

Address 146-4 Ssangnim- dong

Hours 11 AM- 11 PM, Saturday 12 PM- 2 AM

Phone number 02-2273- 1997

 

Credits:

Photos by Rooftop on the Hanok

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