Want real ‘curry rice’? Try AnsanANSAN, Gyeonggi
This excursion to “A village without borders” may be a bit too exotic for some, but it is just right for those with an adventurous spirit. Dive into the Seoul subway system and take line No. 4 out to Ansan Station. Follow the underground passageway in front of the station’s plaza and exit to the left.
Once outside, you will notice a sign that reads, “Sinheung Road.” Follow it. Those with a sensitive olfactory sense will immediately catch a whiff of the scent of spices from the Indian subcontinent, and become enticed by the fascinating and foreign environment just ahead.
As you arrive in this colorful district, you will notice that at least seven out of 10 people who pass by you are not Korean. Most of the passers-by are foreign laborers from Southeast Asia or the Indian subcontinent who have come to the peninsula to pursue their “Korean dream.” About 20,000 residents of this neighborhood, Wongok-dong, hail from a foreign land.
The short distance from Sinheung Road to the foreigners’ district is filled with exotic scenes: money-changing shops with placards in English and Chinese, “phone rooms” set up specially for making long-distance calls, with flags hanging out front. Bearded Muslims, garbed and capped in white, stroll about.
In just about every corner, restaurants dishing up the aromatic fare of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Mongolia abound. At least 20 such eateries are concentrated here, supplemented by 60 Chinese restaurants. Most of their owners are foreigners and so are nearly all of the guests dining out.
The restaurant owners will be a bit surprised to find you in this part of town. The locals sitting together eating their meal may glance your way once or twice. Don’t fret; just smile at them. After all, this is their neighborhood. Ignore the menu on the table; it’s written in foreign letters. Instead, motion to the restaurant owner, who in most cases speaks broken Korean and will explain the menu to you.
Inside each restaurant, diners typically watch programs beamed from their own country on satellite television. In one corner, a collection of magazines and DVDs from the owner’s and patrons’ home country is available for guests to look through. Sometimes, visitors sit at tables outdoors, chatting as they chow away. It appears that people who hail from the same locales have congregated to fight off their homesickness.
In most eateries, main dishes cost no more than 5,000 won ($4.25). These foreign dishes, moreover, are not modified to suit Koreans’ taste buds ― they are the real deal, so revel in their exotic taste. The restaurants offer free tea to Korean guests, but only if you appeal to the restaurateur.
Until the 1990s, Wongok-dong, the “Village without borders,” was a haven for Korean laborers working at the nearby Banwol and Sihwa industrial complexes. As more and more Koreans started to shun these difficult, low-paid jobs, foreign workers began to pour in to replace them. Conflicts between the original Korean residents and foreign workers arose, but they have mellowed out in recent years, thanks in part to the establishment of the Ansan Foreign Migrant Workers’ Center, which can be found online at www.migrant.or.kr.
Pakistani restaurant. Attractive interior decor. One of the most popular items on the menu is lamb rib curry. Foods are spicy and not too greasy, and each dish tastes unique. One kilogram (about 2 pounds), enough for three adults, is 12,000 won ($10); it is served wrapped in a large, round, soft bread called roti (1,000 won each). Regulars here eat two or three roti at a sitting, but one usually suffices for Koreans. A kind of yogurt is offered for dessert. Hours are 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Country House (031-494-9471)
Bangladeshi restaurant. Air conditioned, it doubles as a grocery store, selling tropical fruits and other South Asian specialties. Lamb curry and chicken curry cost 4,000 won. Young foreign laborers create a lively atmosphere here after work. Try parata, a thin flour bread. The owner, Kim Lee-chul, is a Bangladeshi who recently became a Korean citizen. He speaks Korean well.
Taj Mahel (031-494-9786)
Pakistani and South Asian restaurant. Lamb curry and mutton kourma cost 5,000 won. Dal, a stew made of simmered, pureed and spiced legumes, costs 3,000 won. Roti and chapati, round flat breads, are 1,000 won and taste great dipped in fried dal. Lassi tea, thinned with water in yogurt, costs 2,000 won a cup. It’s aromatic and a great way to cool off from the outside heat.
Nusantara Cafe (031-494-4433)
An Indonesian restaurant. The store’s name is an Indonesian word describing a trace. The variety of rice dishes all begin with the word “nasi.” Nasi goreng, a rice dish mixed with beef and chicken, costs 4,500 won. This dish comes with krupukudang, a fried food made from flour mixed with shrimp flour. Fresh cucumbers and hot sauces are served as side dishes. Indonesian coffee costs 1,500 won, milk coffee is 2,000 and kopi jahe, or coffee with ginseng, costs 2,000 won. The owner, Subur, is fluent in Korean. On one side of the restaurant there is a karaoke machine, which plays Indonesian tunes when running.
Bangladesh Restaurant (031-495-5316)
After sampling the other restaurants, this is the place when your mouth is dripping oil. Yeolloy, a tea with milk and sugar, costs 1,000 won. Doey, a Bangladeshi yogurt, is 2,000 won. The restaurant beams Bangla-deshi satellite channels, and between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. movies are shown as well. This eatery is next to the Ansan migrant shelter. Muhammad Ali, the owner, speaks Korean.
A Russian bar resembling a European cafe. Cutlet with mashed potatoes and pork meatballs fried in batter costs 4,000 won, as do pelmeni, Russian boiled dumplings, and goluptsi, fried minced pork wrapped in cabbage. The appetizers seem more satisfying than the main courses. A bottle of Russian vodka sells for 30,000 won. Cosmos is open to adults only from 1:30 p.m. to midnight.
by Sung Si-yoon