220 Shinpyong-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
Okay, now we’re finally getting to the literal ‘meat of the matter’ from my trip to Korea this past summer. One of the key locations on our hit list was this Korean barbecue joint recommended by many Seoulites to us. Kangsanhanwoo was situated in its own large building at the intersection of some major roads in this resort town, with its brightly lit signage there was no trouble in finding it. A huge parking lot directly in front provided ample spaces as well, as we made our way in after nine pm and a long day of sightseeing…
While most of the diners were already fully engaged in their meals and were Koreans by and large, we did spot a few tables of foreigners so its appears this is on the international food lovers’ radar when one comes to this popular tourist location of Korea. To aid everyone coming in, there is a large display case of various types and cuts of beef, much like a butcher shop, immediately as you come inside. I’m sure there is a lot of pointing and gesturing to get what one wants when language is an issue. All part of the joys of international travel I say. With the hot temperatures and the air conditioners running full blast, there was a huge barrier of condensation on the glass, which the two fellows behind the counter would wipe across with a hand-held windshield wiper like tool (similar to those you see at gasoline stands) to give you some visibility.
Autumn’s chill has arrived. That for me means indulging in a lot more soups and stews both at home and when I dine out. If I have to give up the warmer summer weather for something, this isn’t a bad consolation prize.
Seolleongtang is a Korean ox bone-based soup that is simply decorated with other ingredients such as green onions and thin slices of beef brisket. Its something I enjoy when I want to change things up and go for something that isn’t spicy when out for Korean cuisine. I might have mentioned this in a past post, but I’d recommend this for any Korean food neophyte, as the milk-like colored and cloudy/creamy broth is fairly tame but packed with flavor when cooked right. For those that may feel it doesn’t haven enough substance, here’s a thing I do: jump the accompanying bowl of steamed white rice right into the soup.
3924 N Mississippi Ave
Portland’s dining scene is incredibly diverse. Thai food, in particular, is very good in this city. Pok Pok is renowned for its Issan/Northeastern Thai cuisine….and along Sandy Rd are a number of small family run Thai restaurants (along with a good smattering of Vietnamese and Cambodian). And over in the quickly gentrifying Mississippi District is Mee Sen – a restaurant run by a young crew of Thais that is serving uncompromising Thai food.
Those are indeed deep fried grasshoppers – a common drinking snack in Thailand. Mee Sen serves this delicacy perhaps as a gimmick to differentiate themselves from the rest of the field. The food served here is a good survey of Thai cuisine but definitely leans towards Bangkok style southern Thai. However, noticeably absent from the menu are the all-too common Tom Yum soups, and the red/green/yellow curries found at most typical North American Thai restaurants. Instead you are presented with a menu of curries, salads and soups that are more representative of the cuisine. The flavours and spice levels are authentic – all the food I have had here had the right pungency and heat.
2355 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA
Whenever I am in a city with great pizza, I make sure to eat as much of it as I can while I am there. San Francisco has a great pizza scene and I managed to eat at Pizzeria Delfina and A16 on this trip. (I note that Foodosophy member almatonne recently covered Pizzeria Delfina here.)
The pizza here is a thing of beauty – leopard-spotted from the intense heat of their wood fired oven. I had the baby octopus and clam pizza tonight. The crust was near perfect (though not quite as perfect as the crust at Pizzeria Delfina) and the toppings were well seasoned and well balanced.
120 NE Russell St
Recently, I had the pleasure of spending some quality eating time in Portland. I have been to this city many times before as I have relatives who live there. I often go down to visit, but my eating is usually limited to one or two restaurants. This visit was different…I was on a mission to survey one of the most exciting cities in the continent to eat.
Toro Bravo has been on my list for a long time. It is the kind of restaurant that I wish we had here in Vancouver. It has an farm-to-table ethos that is coupled with approachability and accessibility…a combination that is non-existent here in Vancouver. It was devoid of the typical pretensions and other baggage that I am used to experiencing at similar restaurants in my home city. It really felt like a neighbourhood restaurant – full of families with their children dining on communal tables.
4140 Meridian Street
I love to eat at ethnic hole-in-the-wall restaurants. These little joints plug away making tasty food oblivious to the ongoing debates about culinary authenticity and ethnicity. This insulation from such gastronomic banter is what makes good holes-in-the-wall so endearing and finding them such a satisfying experience. One such place is the humble La Gloria – part restaurant and part grocery store – located just south of the 49th parallel in Bellingham WA.
It is no secret that Vancouver has dearth of decent Mexican food. It is an issue of demographics and immigration patterns, of course. We just do not have the population of Mexican immigrants to support many authentic Mexican restaurants. La Gloria serves some of the tastiest and most authentic Mexican food within a day’s drive of Vancouver.
Now that we’re rolling into the fall season and coming back from various journeys over the summer, I thought it would be a good time to do another one of these consolidated posts and provide an update on previously visited places again as a refresher. The links throughout will lead you to original posts and/or commentary on follow up visits. If in doubt if you’ve viewed them all, please do a search on the main page for all your queries…
Seobu-dong 232, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
The mercury was already climbing into the high thirties C. as we began our driving journey from the Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul to the southeastern province of North Gyeonggsang, specifically with the intent of spending a few days and nights in the coastal city of Gyeongju. Its a part of the country that I had never visited before despite its popularity with tourists interested in exploring the sights of some of the nation’s historic treasures, including many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. For those interested in food, the region also holds delivers on Gyeongju specialties that are known throughout South Korea, some of which I was able to indulge in and will report on in coming posts as I catch up on this summer trip…
Being it was my first trip on the highways heading down to this region, I was immediately struck by how beautiful and geographically interesting South Korea is outside of the major city center of Seoul. Low to mid-range undulating mountains curved their way along side the routes we traveled, all covered in lush green trees and shrubbery. Then we would enter some lower valleys that were home to smaller villages and towns that were supported mainly by agricultural industries, enabling us to see many rice patties, other crop fields and livestock facilities, no doubt the backbone of the many Korean barbecue restaurants you find in this country. If you have the opportunity to travel in the countryside here, I highly recommend it! With proper air conditioning and regular breaks frequenting the amazing rest stops along the way (that have everything from restroom facilities, restaurants, food stalls, convenience stores, etc.) and you are good to go – I really wish we had these kind of places in North America, as it puts the gas stands along the highways here to shame.
Aling Mary’s Filipino Store
2656 Main Street
Pillowy-soft little packets of sweet-savory goodness. That’s my shorthand description of what you can get at Aling Mary’s Store on Main Street in Vancouver, just off the busy Broadway zone. I can still remember the first time I wandered in here randomly and getting engulfed in the fabulous smells that only a fresh bakery can provide, and walking out with two dozen of their popular Pan de Sal. I’ve heard them referred to as Filipino bread rolls, not sure if that’s 100% accurate, but regardless, they are something every Vancouverite should try once in their lifetime.
Honestly, I’ve been back at least a half dozen times since that virgin visit, and even found them being sold in Richmond of all places too. White flour, whole wheat, tried them both. Nothing better though then getting then right out of the oven, timing is important, and I’ve had hits and misses when I’ve gone inside here, depending on their baking schedule and how voracious other customers are in walking out with batches of them. On my last weekend morning stop, I got lucky.
Sampaedong 358-2, Namyangju City
Gyeonggi Province, South Korea
Whenever I travel and have the opportunity to indulge in some well known dishes that have made their way to North America, I make sure to partake in them whenever I can. The only time I’ve ever turned down an offer was when I was in Manila two years ago and came face-to-face with a dare to try balut.
Why do I do this?
Partly to experience how its made in the “home country”, and pick up any hints as to what has been adapted by the Canadian version, and to become aware of any obvious misinterpretations.
Throughout these experiences and discoveries, I’ve come to learn that more often than not, despite how connected our planet has become in the present day, there are two factors that seem to stand out for me. One, the availability of certain ingredients in “authentic” dishes that are just too rare/expensive/bothersome/perishable for transport to ever retain its presence in the North American versions of these dishes. Two, the acceptance of some ingredients by North Americans is a hard one to overcome, for whatever reason: flavor, scent, appearance, source, etc.
I guess there are some things that will just take more time to become mainstream enough to be readily available and acceptable.
Nestled along the banks of the mighty Han River quite close to where the north and south arms converge together, is a stretch of walking/bicycle paths and fields that are popular with families out visiting the countryside from Seoul, especially on weekends. I can understand this human need to get one with nature, as when I lived in the city of Calgary, I would often hit the road and go to nearby Bragg Creek, Kananaskis, or even out to Canmore/Banff just to get away from the concrete jungle after a busy workweek. Being in Asia this time, the way the city slickers were out and about in Namyangju‘s beautiful parks and public water lily gardens, reminded me of how busy Hong Kongers head out to the New Territories to get their quiet waterside, “resort” experiences.
Kimura Sushi & Japanese Cuisine
3883 Rupert Street
[Re-visit (Feb 2011) post here]
There seemed to be some buzz in the local community surrounding this newly opened sushi-ya on the city’s east side, not traditionally an area that one associates with the best Vancouver has to offer in this genre of cuisine, so I added it to my list of places to visit upon returning from my latest summer Asia adventures. This meal at Kimura took place on a quiet weekend afternoon in the hopes of taking in the reputed laid back, jazz-infused environment that I’d heard about through the grapevine and local blogging community. With a few tables and seats at the bar counter occupied, it was just right in terms of ambient people noise and atmosphere as I gingerly slid my jet-lagged body into a chair for a meal with one of my most hardest-to-please sushi eating associates.
I won’t repeat what others have gone into in terms of the proprietor’s background and restaurant experience as its been laid out more than enough times for those that want to learn about it. In any event, its a welcome arrival from my perspective, and hope others in the city make their way here to take in a careful (e.g. not rushed) service and meal with some quality ingredients and preparation. Just make sure if you do, to keep your eye out for this place as its not the easiest to spot if you’re coming from the other side of the street as its nestled subtly into a building that houses some other businesses, with plenty of natural foliage (for as long as the leaves survive anyways) of mature trees further blocking the view.
Sodamgol (Sinbong branch)
Sinbong-dong 582, Suji-ku
Youngin City, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea
Korean royal court cuisine (in Korean, gungjung yori) is an elaborate affair that involves the presentation of numerous dishes in an extensive meal that originated in one of the golden eras of the peninsula’s lengthy history and is steeped in Confucian traditions. The dining style that was for the ruling class of the Jeseon Dynasty has been adapted in the modern era and can be found served in many restaurants in Korea today for those wishing to adventure into a culinary time machine. Fortunately on this recent visit to the Asian nation, I was presented with the choice of indulging in this branch of the country’s cuisine. Actually, I was given a choice between two locations: one described as being more upscale in a fancier setting but with weaker food, and the other in more homey conditions but with better food. I chose the latter and thus we ended up at the Sinbong branch of Sodamgol.
With various set meals (priced per person), our group of six opted to all get the same, making it much easier for the restaurant to handle. At the different price points, the items would differ. What follows below is a summary of what was included in the 16,000 won/person listing (so about C$14 each). Also note, the portion sizes are representative of what was served to each table of three, aside from the rice and chigae that we each received our own bowls of.
Q Go Ramen
1443 West Broadway
This long weekend has been a poor one for me in terms of “cheating” with bad eating habits. Friday night was an extended dinner at an izakaya (albeit, I held back on the booze), which was followed up by a lunchtime of ramen – not exactly the most healthiest back-to-back eating to do. In actuality, this meal was a backup to another one that was sought out initially – which we’ll get to eventually I think – but the rain check turned out to be a nearby replacement. To expand, it was decent, just not outstanding. I’ll explain in more detail below.
Q Go Ramen in the Fairview neighborhood is just a short walk from the busy Granville x West Broadway intersection, and is a recent opening that I’d driven by and wanted to check out firsthand. The extreme popularity of Japanese ramen and the growth this genre has experienced in the greater Vancouver area is clearly noticeable, though I’m beginning to worry about some saturation in some areas and a lowering of the bar so to speak in terms of the quality of the offerings. Early thoughts discovered on the local Japanese language boards concerning this place were not strong (conversely, the English forums out there are overwhelmingly positive), so I entered with some subdued expectations and it turns out, matched what I was anticipating.
Changhyun-ri 220-1, Jinjeop-eup
Namyangju City, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea
In Korea and not in the mood for barbecue? Possible? Yes, well at least on this mid-morning in the outskirts of Seoul where I began my day. With the humid weather already beginning to test my personal tolerance levels and with the lunch hour quickly approaching, a random stopover led us to this slightly gaudy, castle-looking building that housed a restaurant known as Kwangrung Hanubang. The nearby area is populated by many residential apartment complexes and appears to be building up into a major suburban district that is well connected by major roads into the capital city. No doubt, this restaurant (one of many along this busy street) is a popular place for locals to dine.
Proudly featuring domestic Korean beef sourced only from the prized Kwangreung region of the same Gyeonggi province, the signage outside on the pop-up stands and also inside on the various frames that were displayed and given by local and regional associations and food industry organizations, it was clear that the beef was something to definitely take in. Despite the temptations, and believe me they were strong, we were looking for a light lunch amid the air conditioned environment and did not order any, much to my amazement in hindsight. Nearby, other groups were happily grilling and the aromas were intoxicating but we managed to hold off, knowing our day was still long and opportunities to eat still lied ahead.
403 North Road #203
Things have changed since I last visited Matsuzushi. For one, the combined space with the small grocery item store has been downsized. Though there is a definite partition that divides the two, it still retains its very casual and almost cafeteria-like ambiance with minimal decor and fuss. For those unfamiliar, the system is a pay-first one. After placing your order at the cashier and paying for your meal ahead of time, find a seat and your food will be brought out to you – no need to rush back to the counter for pickup.
Outside on their handmade signboard on this day, I noticed a listing of specials. As I’m apt to do, I decided to try something on it and given the hot weather, the summer hiyashichuka (cold Japanese noodles) seemed perfect. There seems to be a growing number of places in town that feature this dish when the warmer weather arrives, which is just fine with me. For something so simple, its nice to see the variety of combinations and therefore flavor profile in each one of them. Search around the site to find some previous commentary on this Japanese dish.