Tai Won – Burnaby, BC
A true hole-in-the-wall based on its location in a somewhat downtrodden row of commercial businesses just across from the busy Metropolis at Metrotown, but once inside it looked better (and cleaner) than I expected at the front door. Nearby, was a AYCE-looking sushi place and I caught more than a few people looking inside Tai Won before stepping over next door. I think this business might have received a refreshing or a change of ownership around the time of my visit, as I could see it was very busy inside – and there were some apparent “congratulations” type of gifts near the front door and the female manager was conversing with some trades people outside and it seemed they were discussing the awning above the front window. The clientele was very young, mostly teenagers and early-twenty somethings led the way. Which led to a nice buzz of conversation and excitement, all in a very casual setting.
Up front was an intriguing self-serve setup. Of course a water station. But also two containers filled with pickled vegetables that you could re-fill at your leisure, after getting your first serving with your meal. Tables and chairs for two and four seating were scattered around, including a small two-top in the corner right by the front window – a perfect place to take in the busy Kingsway traffic, both on the road and the sidewalk. Only a pair of waitresses were on hand and it was clear they were swamped. It made the do-it-yourself area all the more reasonable. I took advantage of the free side re-fills at least twice. It wasn’t the full array of a stereotypical medley of banchan, but sufficed.
And before I go any further, I should explain that the niche cuisine served at Tai Won is a Korean-Chinese fusion variety. Quite popular in Korea itself, I’ve found certain key dishes have made their way to North American, Korean-run restaurants, including some in the GVRD. Mi-Ae Deli and Book Kyung Ban Jeom immediately come to mind as places that serve this cross-Asia genre of cooking. The mool man doo (boiled dumplings) were plentiful on this plate and at just $6.99, more than enough if that’s all you wanted to eat on your own. A good mix of ground pork and chives, with a definite hit of ginger coming through, along with a touch of the garlic. A small condiment tray of soy sauce, vinegar and red chili flakes was on standby, to use as one prefers. A small ringed area on the plate itself (visible in the top left here), is the vessel in which to drop your dip. As an aside, if you prefer other types of preparation when it comes to your man doo (dumplings), you are in luck as you can get them steamed (jjin man doo) but they will be more fluffy and have a denser casing, or deep fried (koon man doo). All three types ring in at the same $6.99 price point.
Yoo san seul bap (what I’d describe as a assorted mix of stir-fried vegetables, sliced pork and some seafood served over rice) was my dinner order. The consistency of the sauce that surrounded everything was slightly thick, due to the corn starch used to make it less loose no doubt. It made for eating with the rice easier as a result to have it like this. The differing but still mainly soft textures throughout when you take a big spoonful of it all, results in you getting a fairly consistent “feel” as you chew through. I could see this as being a real comfort food dish, when you are feeling on the weaker, ill side. The flavors were muted, not salty as one might assume, so it felt very healthy despite the dense sauce. Volume wise it was plenty, especially after I’d scarfed down more than my share of the dumplings to start our dinner. Too much rice for me.
My dining companion opted for the tried and true Korean-Chinese stalwart, better known as Jjajangmyeon. The black bean sauce, wheat noodles mixed in with pork and other veggies is one I’ve tried but soon get tired of after just a small portion. I think its the heavy sauce and the repetitive flavor. If I have it, I usually get it paired with a fried rice (bokeumbap) or with the crispy sweet & sour chicken (tangsooyook). The impressions I heard about Tai Won’s version were that it was just okay. I think my dinner partner has a more preferred place in town for this. At just $5.99 at this place though, you can’t go wrong or feel ripped off.
Other noodle dishes of this genre were on the menu as well: jjampong (its in a spicy hot soup), wangjjampong (again, in a hot soup with seafood and vegetables), and even some udon noodle soups. I think I’d be back to try out some other things on their menu as it is ridiculously good value and I think I spotted things not available at the other mentioned places of Korean-Chinese cuisine.