Bulgarian Food at Zelen

The one thing I resolved to do in 2015 is to devote more time to my passions. As this blog shows, or at least used to show, eating is one of those passions. Hopefully, you will see more on food from me in the coming months! This time is an exception, but I hope to focus a bit more on Korean food, or food I make myself, in the future.

I was inspired by my friend and coworker Samantha who began her new year’s resolution by starting a food blog devoted to international cuisine in Seoul. She saw a gap in the myriad Seoul-based food blogs in Korean, that the coverage of truly authentic foreign cuisine was lacking, and she dove in to fill that gap herself.

Seoul is a great city for eating, Korean food being as diverse and delicious as it is, but now restaurants with high quality international cuisines are just starting to boom. Even in my short two years here, I have sensed the change.

Samantha and I, two eager eaters, met up for lunch this past week. Though we work together, our company is currently split into two offices; I’m working in the Seoul-based one for now, while she works in our larger office outside of Seoul. The Seoul office is in Hannam-dong, an area dotted with embassies which organically made it an international food grub hub. Places are pricey, too. I miss being able to go to little Korean diners for simple meals with rice for under $6, but I do love having diversity at my fingertips.

I was excited when Samantha said she had a meeting at the Hannam office and asked me to have lunch with her. Few of my coworkers are as adventurous as Samantha when it comes to lunch or dining in general. We have an onsite cafeteria (Korean food only) that often attracts the masses. Its convenience is nice given that it’s winter in Seoul, but the food is heavy with msg and I try to only resort to eating there once or twice a week.

A Bulgarian place called Zelen had caught my eye since the first week we relocated to Hannam, but I hadn’t sueded any coworkers to go for it. Samantha was down.

I don’t know anything about Bulgarian food, but I have a love of Eastern European food that I so rarely sate. Shamefully, I had no problem assuming Bulgarian food would fit my umbrella love of “Eastern European food,” a term that, I’ll admit, lumps about 9 countries in the same category without acknowledging variation. It’s actually exciting to me that I have only begun to hack a fingernail into this culinary iceberg. But, in my limited experience, I love it for the meatiness and the tanginess – for the dense stuffings of meats and vegetables, for the irresistible additions of zippy sauces of tomato or yogurt. No food will warm you- or weight you- down to the depths of your core, like Eastern European food.

bulgarian1

Bulgaria, my fellow European-geography-ignorant North Americans, is actually nearly Mediterranean. It sits smack dab in between two of my own beloved culinary spheres. This excited me.

Samantha and I beelined for Zelen’s salad bar which was stocked with, to our mutual delight, cucumber yogurt. There was also soup, potato salad and grilled vegetables. Korean potato salad is often sweetened, so this vinegary Bulgarian one was refreshing. I loved the chicken soup, too. If only my homemade attempts ever tasted so clean.

I didn’t recognize much on the menu – I kept trying to guess and was wrong every time – but Samantha ordered two dishes for us to share. We got a stuffed meat filled with cheese and pickles and vegetables, (it sounded a lot like the German roulaten my dad loves making,) and sarma, a stuffed cabbage with yogurt.

stuffed cabbage

The stuffed meat was in a pool of tomato sauce. It was rich and delicious, so much so that every bite was a chore. The cabbage was perfect and the yogurt was nice and acidic. My bitter tooth was in heaven.

The staff were both Korean and Bulgarian and our Bulgarian server was very sweet and gave me a lot of information when I asked about non-dairy options for my needy significant other. He is an “EE” cuisine fan as well it would be nice to go to Zelen together.

Samantha and I experienced some kind of midweek/winter-malaise-induced high. The food may have healed a small part of us. She left invigorated to blog, and I left determined to recover from this wonderful meal and go back to writing about food.

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