Pojang Macha – Vancouver, BC

Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, Pojang Macha emerged from site of what I had assumed was simply a makeover of the previous tenant – a decent Korean restaurant specializing in soondubu – that I had eaten in from time to time over the past year.  Peeking inside one day during the construction lull (a sign outside said “re-opening in September”), I saw drapes of orange plastic tarps everywhere and assumed things were underway for a flashy new setup.  To my utter surprise, on a return visit this month after the doors were re-opened, I discovered that this bright drapery had not been torn down and was in fact the intended motif!

The inside of the restaurant was literally covered with the colorful tarps along every single wall.  The entrance even had a tarp covering that was partially peeled back, to suggest it was perhaps still under construction, but again, this was part of the intended design.  Scattered around were some upturned and painted drum cans, that had been converted to tables with large steel circular plates attached on top.  Around them were stubby blue plastic stools.  In the center of everything were two long wooden tables, that had a pair of stainless steel tubs placed inside, with some narrow skewer sticks that were visibly floating on top.

After getting over my initial bewilderment, I finally realized what was going on.

In Korean, a pojang macha could be described as a street side vendor/cart/stall.  You can spot these all over the major streets, especially in the high traffic areas around bus and train transportation hubs, as well as in residential neighborhoods.  Most look like little kiosks, with the same one-side opening you find on sandwich trucks that patrol the lunch hour of many industrial areas of major North American cities, that offer up sandwiches and hot drinks to mostly blue collar workers.  The pojang macha in Korea take it a step further in the winter months, by putting up sheets of plastic (sometimes clear, sometimes colored), surrounding the cart/stall, creating a warm bubble that keeps out the cold wind and captures the hearty smells of food that are prepared inside.

In essence, the folks here had re-created this, but inside an actual building structure.

I could sense a real determination to stick to this unique theme here, as there was even a creative play on the menus.  Instead of using regular sheets of paper in a booklet, the menu items were hand written in a dark marker onto what almost appeared to be like car hubcaps – some round circular aluminum discs, with everything only in Korean script.  Along one wall were also some narrow sheets of paper with handwritten items – again all in Korean.  Fortunately, I was with someone who could read it all and explain it to me.  [I later noticed when a pair of large Caucasian males, dressed up in full on biker gear and looking totally out of place, walked in and comfortably sat down at one of the large common tables, that they had received menus in English).

Even the banchan (side dishes) came out in a never before seen fashion – on a segmented aluminum plate, much like you’d find in a military mess hall.  The hot brick of tofu dressed in a watery, spicy sauce was my favorite of this lot.  Some salted edamame, sticks of celery and carrots, a vinegar dressed seaweed, and some sweetly flavored potato cubes completed the offering.

The bossam dish – a plate of nice, thick slices of boiled pork belly, served with a side mixture that was comprised of kimchi, scallions, red peppers, and little dried shrimp, was our main dish.  Now this really reminded me of the small plate dishes that are popular in drinking establishments in Korea, called anju.  The instant envelope created by wrapping a piece of the pork along with the spicy toppings inside a leave of cabbage was a hit at our table.  I wish I had been in the mood to drink some soju, as this would have gone down very well together.

Lastly, we decided to sample a bowl of the korean odeng (cut up, and flat pieces made of a cooked mixture of fish paste and flour), including some udon noodles.  The combination of the chewy ingredients in the odeng and udon, and the flavorful broth made for a heartwarming finish to our meal.

Once you get over the initial surprise of the decor, and if you are have even a remote familiarity to the street versions in South Korea, I am sure this place will bring a smile to your face.  At least, tip your hat to the owners for boldly going in this direction, and bringing this piece of Korea to Vancouver’s dining scene.  I am sure there will be some who don’t get it and I could see why that would happen.  I hope this small article can serve in a small way to explain to any unsuspecting visitors, about this concept of bringing street food inside.  On the evening that I visited, there was a group of older Korean gentlemen who seemed to be relishing in this transformation of street culture from their homeland, to pairs of young couples who seemed to be there for the food and conversation, as well as the a fore mentioned bikers.

Example of an outdoor pojang macha in Seoul

Example of an outdoor pojang macha in Seoul

After recently dining in a place that had invested heavily in the design and was somewhat lacking with the food, it was a refreshing change to see quite the opposite come through at Pojang Macha.  I guess it just goes to show that there is always that balance with restaurants, between the importance of the food being served, as well as the place its being served in.  At times, the finest ingredients and creations from the kitchen meld well with creatively designed spaces, and other times not.  Most often, there is an imbalance between the two.  In this case, I think I will always side with preferring solid food over beautiful architecture or interior design.  How about you?

Pojang Macha
595 E Broadway
Vancouver, BC
Tel: (604) 569-0852
Hours: Seven days a week, 5pm to midnight

Pojang Macha on Urbanspoon

27 thoughts on “Pojang Macha – Vancouver, BC

  1. ahem, this sounds like a great way of sidestepping those difficult health regulations to bring us some tasty street food. any chance of seeing silk worms?

    my “hell yeah” was also a partial response to the question of preferring solid food over architecture/design. i’m always there for the food!

  2. > flowbee

    No way they would be serving that item here, no matter what the decor is. 🙂

    If you are someone who prefers substance over style, then this place definitely is up your alley – can’t get anymore basic in design/interior materials than here.

  3. >fmed

    I’ve been back since the original post – this time with a drink heavy focus – and enjoyed the atmosphere at night which was very much like in the outdoor versions in Korea. Please do let us know how your experience is, when you do get to visiting.

  4. I will definitely post my review when I get around to dining there.

    I have been thinking about these food court concepts recently. I would love to see a food court downtown ( where we seem to have many lackluster and low-traffic food courts) turned into Depachika and Pojang Macha courts. It will work quite well near Robson St area.

  5. >fmed

    Great, look forward to it.

    I’d say a pojang macha is less ‘food court stall’ and more ‘outdoor cart’, and heavy on the alcohol drinking component. The dearth of good options in the DT is striking, throw in the growing encroachment of the dreaded chain outlets overtaking the smaller operations, and its just going in the wrong direction. Japanese ‘depachika’ to me don’t really resonate with the food service component as much as the take home, ready to eat meals and food items. But it would be nice to see something like an international food court with great seating options in the core, something like those large multicultural events that happen in some Canadian cities under tents in huge parks (the Heritage Festival every summer in Edmonton comes to mind).

  6. Singapore is the world’s food court paradise (and my favourite place in the universe to eat). I think it was in the ’70’s when the government sanctioned all hawker carts to move into approved (and more hygienic) food courts. An international food court with a depachika, hawker and pojang macha (minus the alcohol, I guess) components would be a great addition….right by the Skytrain stations would be ideal – transit takers could pickup food to and from work…depachika to go, etc.

  7. >fmed

    Indeed, Singapore’s food court are unrivaled in terms of variety and quality at those price points. Look for some posts from that part of the world in the coming weeks on Foodosophy, for a glimpse on how that scene is these days.

    I think the proximity to Skytrain would work. The taking-home part though I wonder about though, not sure how many people are currently doing that kind of thing on public transportation (due to smells, etc.). I think the culture here is more eat at home with family, rather than with colleagues after work, so that mentality needs to shift to make a viable post-work culture and customer base be effective. This is starting to feel like that computer game Sim City. 🙂

  8. Wow, I was so excited to read about this here. I love watching korean dramas and wish I could try out a pojang macha. However, they’re not open for lunch and I’m not much of a drinker.

    I think I would be in heaven if they ever open for lunch and sell spicy rice cakes and those squiggly things on a stick.

  9. > holly

    I agree, Korean dramas are a good insight into these places! I wasn’t aware of their business hours, but not being open for lunch doesn’t surprise me given the theme here. You can enjoy it even without drinking (as I did on my review). Plenty of good eats to be had!

  10. thank you guys. I really happy with you guys review. I couldn`t think non korean people like our dishes. please let me know who visite pojang macha read this site, I serve some special dish. thank you very much.

  11. > pojang macha

    감사합니다. 제가 가끔 출장으로 한국을 방문하곤 하는데, 님의 ‘포장마차’가 꼭 한국에 있는 듯한 느낌을 주어서 참 좋았습니다. 항상 번창하시고, 벤쿠버에 있는 한인들 외에 많은 사람들에게도 사랑을 받을 수 있길 바랍니다. 저도 자주 방문하도록 하겠습니다. (그러나, 특별 서비스는 필요없습니다. 메뉴에 있는 음식들도 충분히 맛있으니까요. ^ ^ ) Good luck!

  12. Thanks Shokutsu –

    I NEED to try this place next time I’m in Van – This is exactly the fun and different kind of place that I typically go seeking.

    Thanks also for the “heads up” on the background and purpose of the decor – I would have otherwise surely been wondering….what the…??

  13. Hi, I have a question about this place related to drinking (alcohol of course).

    Does Pojang Macha server Makgeolli/Dongdongju? I had some during my trip to Korea and loved the stuff. I’ve been trying to find some here in Vancouver but no luck so far.

  14. >Lev
    Pojang Macha does indeed serve Makgeolli. As does Chungdam Ahn off Robson in downtown Vancouver. For Dongdongju (which I prefer more than Makgeolli) it can be had at Book Kyung Ban Jeom (the Korean-Chinese restaurant) also on Robson.

  15. Pingback: Bae’mi’s Own Pojang Macha « The Raw and the Cooked

  16. Shokutsu, have you been there recently? I finally managed to drag a couple of friends over there yesterday to try it out, and it was a complete bust – tiny portions, instant ramyun noodles with bleh broth, and some dried out carrot and celery with mayo and a couple of banana slices as the only banchan offering.
    We paid pretty steeply for leaving with empty stomachs, and my friends were not too happy with having been dragged there ….
    So my question is, if you’ve been there recently, did they just have an off day when I went? Also, I couldn’t find the bossam on the menu – am I blind or was it taken off?

    I’m trying to figure out, if I should just come for drinking: the makgeolli was cheap, and the seafood pancake was good, if pricey…

    • Hi s.

      I’d say its been a good four, five months since I was last there for some drinks. In total, I must have eaten there three, four times since this original post (fall 2008). Sorry to hear you came away disappointed with your experience. Perhaps they’ve changed their menu (I know when I was last there, it was no longer written on the metal plates as per my first time). I’d have to check for you if the bossam dish is no longer listed there, but I would guess that it would be. If you’re up to trying makgeolli, may I recommend heading further east on Broadway to this place (https://foodosophy.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/bukchigo-jangguchigo-coquitlam-bc/). Its pretty tasty there!

      • Oh, I guess WordPress doesn’t email notices for replies! Thanks for getting back to me – Bukchigo looks like loads of fun, though it’s pretty far out for public transit people like myself. (Though I suppose it wouldn’t be very safe to drive there for a drinking spree.) Now I just need to run an ad in craigslist for Korean/Asian-drink-loving friends! 😉

        • Thanks for making the effort to come back s. I think there is a way to be notified (click the ‘send me site updates’ box below) or subscribe to our site. Indeed if you are in Vancouver proper, it could end being a trip to get to Bukchigo (Sky train though has a nearby station I believe) and would be the best bet if you had too much to drink. 🙂 Come back and let us know if you ever make it out there and your thoughts on the place!

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