For Seoul epicures, a wide range of choicesItaewon-based epicures have had reason to rejoice of late, as new restaurants representing a broad range of ethnic cuisines are opening like crazy.
Most of the new eateries are in the alleys adjacent to the Hamilton Hotel. Roam around there and, thanks to several local and transplanted entrepreneurs, you’ll see places offering dishes indigenous to South Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe and America.
But another area to watch, on the west end, is the narrow road that rises up and winds around from Pizza Hut. At a few shops there, within a few steps of each other, you can find affordable Indian, Greek, Indonesian, Japanese, Chinese and Turkish menus. And there is essentially one man to thank ― Kumar Ashok, an Indian-Canadian who’s lived in Korea for about three years.
If you like Turkish food in particular, Mr. Kumar should be your hero. Just last week the original owners of Sah Kebab, the lane’s quaint little Turkish eatery, came to him, saying they were in a jam and needed to quit the business. After a brief discussion to settle the terms, he agreed to buy it on the spot.
As a result, Sah Kebab became Mr. Kumar’s third restaurant on that little road, after his main place, New Delhi, and his new one, called International Cuisine.
Sounds like a lot of work. But Mr. Kumar is not the type to say “Sheesh.” Break naan with him and ask about his plans and he’s all optimism.
At times he’s a gastronomic evangelist: “I want to turn this street into the international food culture street. I want to introduce new foods to Korea, and give people lots of choices.”
At others, he’s a philosopher: “This kind of business, cooking, is my life, this is what keeps me going, the positive feedback I get from people who come to my restaurant. Without these people and their good words I’m nothing.”
Then he’s a prophet: “If this year goes well, [within five years] I will have a few more New Delhi outlets and a few more International Cuisines.” He says that International Cuisine, serving mainly Greek foods like salads and souvlaki but also other exotic eats like teriyaki chicken and chow mein, would do well in Seoul’s new shopping malls, since he keeps the prices low.
So Mr. Kumar sees quite a busy road ahead. Actually, he’s already remodeling Sah Kebab ― he’s had the Turkish chef call home to order carpets, narghiles and other knick-knacks from his native Cappadocia. Also, for the Hi Seoul festival beginning April 30, he will run two booths on the main drag, serving up samosas and other goodies.
That will certainly test his modest staff of Indian and Korean cooks and servers, not to mention his Indonesian wife. The wife, incidentally, is as optimistic as Mr. Kumar. Asked if she was worried about the Sah Kebab acquisition, she smiled and said, “More work, more fun.”
And, best of all, more good eats for the rest of us.
by Mike Ferrin