Choon Ha Choo Dong
36 East Broadway
Prepare for a volley of posts on local Korean restaurants dear readers, it seems yours truly has been on a big kick lately for the spicy, bold flavours that are associated with that peninsula from the Far East…
Choon Ha Choo Dong (the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters results in the English: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) could easily be one of the hardest to notice or even find, Korean restaurants in Vancouver…
First off, its not in the downtown west end which is fast becoming the Korea Town of the city. Instead its situated on the second floor of a plain looking building on East Broadway just before Main Street and the exterior facade isn’t modern but has a different kind of character about it. I’ve driven by it countless times but its only recently that I’ve actually gone inside.
Once through the front doors, the long wooden stairwell up also makes you wonder just where is this restaurant? In many ways, the structure and age of the building reminds me of Bul Go Gi House in Edmonton.
With a combination of table settings and semi-private enclosed booths (almost like tatami rooms in some Japanese restaurants), Choon Ha Choo Dong is excellent for larger group gatherings. Huddled around a hot plate or a large steaming stew with six or more people can easily be accommodated.
This post will detail some items I’ve sampled on several occasions (hence the distinct difference in picture quality; one time with my camera, the other only equipped with my cell phone, and another time without either)…
On my very first visit, having arrived there earlier than a few other people coming, we ordered some bottles of hite beer and a small simple snack of chicken karaage. Lightly breaded which I prefer, though nothing to write home about in terms of total taste, it was just something to nibble on while we waited we scanned the ample menu booklet.
For another appetizer-style dish that I had on my second visit, I’d recommend this plate of deep fried mandu (dumplings). They looked very standard to me until I took my first few bites and then I was hooked! The accompanying salad of julienned red lettuce and carrots topped with a spicy kochujang-base dressing made for a nice contrast in textures – best to eat them together with the mandu!
Of course, no Korean meal would feel complete without some soju. Well, at least maybe for me…
Once the others arrived safe and sound, we agreed to make it a grill night, and opted for the yangnyeom kalbi offering. The bite sized pieces of beef rib meat was marinated in a soy-based liquid, with what seemed like some sweetness from sugar, garlic (of course!). The marinade sometimes has some slices of fleshy fruit like peach or kiwi added, to help soften the meat as well.
The convenience of yangnyeom kalbi lies in the pre-cut, bite-size portions. Easier to grill, control the cooking process and picking off the hot plate when deemed ready (I like mine a bit on the raw side). Compared to say LA Kalbi, with meat clinging still to the laterally cut rib bones, it requires less effort to eat and no sticky fingers from trying to tear it off the bone.
I think many people will have their preferred way of eating this dish. Grilling it in smaller batches so everyone can still get their share, but does not leave an excess amount from overcooking is what I think is ideal. Sure you can slide the more ‘done’ ones to the edges of the hot plate to keep them warm, but I still find they can get overly dry if done so – best to slide them over to your plate if that is the case.
Overall, I’d say the marinade and absorption of flavors from it in the cooked meat was just okay and thus could have been better. But I must digress, my base of comparison is to some fantastic barbecue that I’ve had in Seoul over the years…
More meat? Sure, why not!
This bulgogi-like dish served in a hot bowl that cooked and crisped the outer edges and sides of the steamed rice at the bottom, could be considered a very safe selection for those not yet comfortable with other Korean dishes, or are adverse to the hot and spicy. It is a fair size and more than a meal in itself for a single person.
As is usual Korean dining custom following a main of barbecue, several of us chose the mul naengmyeon, perhaps one of my most favorite Korean dishes in the summer months for its refreshing qualities.
Choon Ha Choo Dong does it well, and ranks up there with the version at Dae Bak Bon Ga in downtown Vancouver. Nice crisp, thin slices of cucumber and daikon, as well as some slices of beef and a half boiled egg. The noodles themselves done just right and perfect chewiness. The broth, the hardest part of making this dish surprisingly, tasted as I expected it should.
Another popular cold noodle dish in Korean cuisine is kong kuksu. I’ve not seen it on a lot of menus, so was pleasantly surprised to see it here. Even better, you can select either the jjolmyon myon (chewy) or somen-type noodles.
Its really up to you, as noodles of any variety or in any type of cuisine often ends up being a personal preference.
Don’t let the gap in the photo quality alter your judgment simply based on the visuals. I personally think the thinner variety of noodles works better with the denser, nuttier tasting soup in kong kuksu, but that’s just me.
On another occasion, I delved into a huge pot of kamja tang (potato soup with huge chunks of pork on the bone included in the stew). No images of it but again, a solid offering worthwhile sharing with a group.
All in all, Choon Ha Choo Dong has become my go-to place for Korean food this summer. Completely unexpected, but totally welcome!