Monday, May 10, 2010


The first bite of the lamba samsa from RaTa transported me back to my childhood in the valley of the Chirchik river; after a warm autumn afternoon playing amongst the walnut trees and the Hawthorns, I'd return to find our house filled with the scent of samsa. This pastry is so transcendent that I promise you'll have manufactured nostalgia about your fake Uzbek childhood if you taste it too.

At least, I hope it's Uzbek; if you have information to the contrary, please let me know. While wandering around the central Asian section of Seoul, lost among the Cyrillic signs, I happened upon this quiet bakery just outside of the fray and wandered in. The tiny shop had two tables pushed together in the center. At one, two middle-aged women were sipping tea and indulging in a number of savory pastries.
After a minute of browsing cluelessly since there were no signs in any language, the lovely shop owner approached me and told me in Korean what I was looking at: three different varieties of lamb pastries, one pork, and one potato. I picked out the lamb samsa (the samsa part having been deduced later on the internet) and a chocolate something-or-other that looked like a mini eclair. I discovered I'd already reached the limit of her Korean abilities when I asked for my items "to go." No problem; a quick bit of miming and we had an understanding. I walked out with the samsa, the chocolate dessert, and a bag of caramels for under 6,000 won (about 5 dollars).

Back at home, I heated it up on my stove and then cut it in half to take a picture. As far as I could tell from its underwhelming appearance, all that was inside was lamb and onion.

My expectations were low as I bit into it, which made for a heavenly surprise. I'd say the contents were kissed with butter, but I'd probably be kidding myself; most likely the inside of this pastry got to at least second or third base with butter, but it didn't taste excessive. The pastry was flaky and the lamb and onion were perfectly seasoned in that way that, on the rare occasion I am lucky enough to come across it, makes me scratch my head and wonder how something can taste so simple and yet so delicious.

The dessert was also a surprise; beneath the chocolate was a moist, crumbly spiced cake that was packed with walnuts.

I finished off with a couple of the gooey milk caramels (imported from the Ukraine) and promised myself I'd be back soon to find out what other delectable surprises this unassuming shop holds.

To get to RaTa, take exit 12 out of Dongdaemun Stadium and walk in the opposite direction, away from the traffic light and towards the Two Two Chicken. Take the second left down the alley just before the samgyopsal place, and walk straight down the alley until you reach the end. You will see RaTa across the street and to your right.


  1. That pastry sounds ideal! I love spiced cake and I love walnuts. The lamb samsa sounds great, too.

  2. Are you sure it wasn't a samosa?

  3. Yep, it's a samsa: