At last - Sri Lankan cuisine hits Seoul
Given the stomach-churning state of the swill most airlines serve their benighted victims, this utterance is one few would disagree with ― self included. But there is an exception to every rule.
Back in the distant days of my misspent youth, I had occasion to fly Air Lanka.
Although senility and soju are steadily eroding the old memory cells, the breakfast served on that flight still stands out like a flaming beacon. It was one of the finest fish curries I have ever consumed, and while it was so fearsomely spiced that I had burned a smoking hole in the seat of my trousers by the time I stepped off the aircraft several hours later, that meal was, I am convinced, the greatest pleasure any human can enjoy among the clouds short of joining the mile-high club.
But to return to ground level, here in Seoul, while there is an increasing number of sub-continental restaurants in town, most serve basic Northern Indian cuisine. There are a few serving Pakistani; of Southern Indian, I know only one, and Sri Lankan ― none.
“Kashmir” is on the second floor of the building right next to Itaewon’s Chungwha apartments. Inside, it is rather formal-looking: white table cloths, ruffled napkins, a faux-marble floor, and a set of polished silver tureens for the buffet. The decor is minimal: A hookah pipe and some Islamic scrolls framed on the walls.
Kashmir does not sound like the name of a joint serving Ceylonese cuisine ― and indeed, until a month ago, it was a strictly halal Pakistani establishment. But since hiring a Sri Lankan chef, this place has gone on the map as the only Sri Lankan restaurant in town. Which means you won’t get the “cooking-by-numbers” approach of certain curry restaurants (i.e. chef knocks up half a dozen batches of sauce; when an order arrives, he simply chucks the meat or fish into the sauce, heats ‘em up and ― hey presto! ― dinner is served.)
“I am very strict,” insists owner Attiq Ur Rehman. “Nothing is pre-prepared, and I like to serve the food fresh. If we can’t serve it fresh, we just say, ‘Sorry.’”
There is a dinner buffet on weekends, and set lunches priced at 6,500, 7,500 and 9,500 won. A “couple’s menu” ― not a bad idea, that ― is on the way at 30,000 won; and a family menu, serving four, goes for 70,000 won.
We, however, ate a la carte. It is early days yet, and on the menu, a strong Pakistani influence vies with the Sri Lankan choices.
The Kashmir Lamb Chops (16,000 won) are another house special. Served on a bed of lettuce, with lemon wedges, the lamb was nicely crisped from the grill, but the chops were small and a little dry for my taste.
Sri Lankan comes in the form of a Potato Baji (8,000 won) ― or chopped spuds in oil with red and green chilis, onions and garlic. Despite its simplicity, this was very tasty indeed, though corrosively spicy (Wimps: You have been warned!). Recommended.
A Green Fish Curry (12,000 won), another Sri Lankan dish, reminded me rather of a Thai curry. Not just in color, but there was a strong flavor of coriander and lime in the coconut oil sauce, as well as onion and garlic.
For the benefit of those watching their cholesterol, I should add here that Sri Lankans do have a heavy hand with the coconut oil, which is not the healthiest cooking choice by a long chalk, but what the hell? You only live once.
The Pakistani-style breads here are a lot thicker and heavier than the fluffier Indian nans, but not bad at all.
To drink, the Mango Lassi (4,000 won) was just what the doctor ordered, given the fact that the steamy season is just around the corner: mild, sweet and refreshing. (And it would probably go a treat with rum, now I think of it. There’s your tip for the week, readers.)
Service was polite and attentive, though we ate a late Sunday lunch so were the only diners in the house.
Verdict: While not quite as memorable a meal as that in-flight experience of my youth, Kashmir certainly fills a hole in the sub-Continental dining scene here in Seoul.
Kashmir English: spoken
Tel: (02) 793-7644
Address: 22-3, 2nd Floor, Itaewon 1-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: 11:00-11:00, seven days
Parking: None available, but there is usually a place in the nearby streets
Dress: Smart casual
by Andrew Salmon