Dinner place: Zelen

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Have you ever tried Bulgarian food? I had no idea what they would be like, and when a friend suggested a Bulgarian restaurant in the Itaewon district, I was curious to try it out.

Zelen means green in Bulgarian, and the interior was indeed forest green, with flowers climbing everywhere and a mermaid fountain in the centre. Very elegant and sophisticated, yet cosy. Soon after the opening time at 5.30pm, the place was packed with many foreigners who came to dine in the greenery. Lucky I had booked for our party of seven!

Zelen was created by two Bulgarian brothers and a Korean entrepreneur. From what I read on the Internet, when the Bulgarian chef brother's hotel in his country was bought by a Korean company, they offered him a position at a Korean chain hotel. Afterwards the Korean entrepreneur approached him with the idea of opening a Bulgarian restaurant, so they teamed up with his brother. 

This was to be the last dinner together with some of the Korean people I had met during my first and second years of uni. Can't believe it's already been five years - time flies so quickly! Not all of the crew were able to make it - three are in the States pursuing their high academic goals of PhD and beyond, another three are busy preparing for big exams and projects late into the weekend night. Smart lovelies, we wish you all the best! Also YW who had broken her Achilles tendon from snowboarding - hope you get better soon ;) 

Choosing from a menu of unfamiliar words are often tricky, because you have no idea what you are about to get. I sometimes wish there were pictures to help with the decision. But, these experiences also train you to trust your gut feelings in a way, and that is how we went about here.

The appetizer: Zucchini with Yoghurt - Baked courgettes with home made yoghurt and fresh dill. 
Presentation, check. Taste, check. Of course, yoghurt is a staple food in Bulgaria. Too bad about the ordinary name and the serving size, though. We were already very hungry, but this little serving pretty much turned up our hunger button to the max. Sooo nice! I am definitely going to try making this at home one day.
First dish, mixed meat section: Giuvedje - Stewed chicken, pork, vegetables, and cream sauce in a ceramic pot. Yum! But.. Why are the servings here so small?! 
So we looked around the room to see what the others were having and chose a dish that looked the largest in portion: Seafood plate. Stewed calamari, shrimps and mussels in tomato sauce.
We were still not fully satisfied - I think we all wanted to try everything on the menu. Our eyes scanned the Black Book, the menu, and stopped at the words, 'traditional Bulgarian sauce.' Hmm. Pile po Lovejiski. Think it means hunted chicken. They were chicken breasts in a sauce made from bacon, wine, pickles, herbs and mushroom. The sauce was nice, and the meat soft and tender. 
Because there were a few late arrivals, we ordered one last dish: Svinski medallion. 'Svinski' means 'pork'. Grilled pork fillets topped with smoked cheese and cream sauce. Again, the sauce was nice. Afterthoughts, though, perhaps a dessert would have been nicer as the finishing touch.
The restaurant definitely was not cheap in comparison to its serving sizes, but the atmosphere and staff were nice, and we could see that Zelen was indeed a popular place for locals and foreigners alike. I would recommend the appetizer and the mixed meat in ceramic pot over the more bland meat dishes. 

The team of three has two Zelen restaurants in Seoul, one in Itaewon and the other in neighbouring Hannam-dong. It would be best to make a booking if going with a big group like us, and don't be surprised if the person on the other side answers in English. It may be one or the other of the Bulgarian brothers. 

благодаря! Blagodarya! Thank you Zelen and SNU girls for the wonderful night. Wish we could have had the whole night to chat together!

Thank you especially T for your surprise show up, it definitely was unexpected and probably the whole room knew it by our loud exclamations of shock when you joined us on the night without forewarnings. Keep in contact, girl! Don't disappear into the world again! 

Best wishes to the whole crew with their future. We will see again, surely, wherever it may be. The world is our oyster!

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“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
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