Bukchigo Jangguchigo Korean Restaurant
Unit c-341 North Road
(604) 931 – 7400
In an instant, transported halfway around the globe. That’s how I felt when I stepped inside this completely Korean enclave, that was essentially a minsok jujum (Korean-style drinking spot) and called Bukchigo Jangguchigo. Tucked in the corner of an L-shaped strip mall on North Road, driving into the lot southbound is a virtual impossibility, given the high volume of traffic coming the other way and the not-so-friendly Burnaby/Coquitlam drivers who always seem to be in a hurry to get home…
With some tables occupied by some younger twenty-something groups as well as some older gentlemen, all speaking Korean, it reminded me of my experiences eating out on the streets of Seoul. On previous visits to this mall, I had always been curious to step inside, as I could make out boisterous customers all seemingly have a good time, much in the mold of the crowds at Guu in downtown Vancouver.
With the complete Korean-only menu plastered onto the walls, on top of some wallpaper with ancient Korean text, I was completely at the mercy of my Korean speaking companion. I’m sure the younger members of the staff could communicate in English, but I didn’t even have to try.
I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered much as I knew what I was here for. The rack on one of the walls holding about 150 or so marked bowls suggesting that I was not alone. A sign near the rack said you could buy your own personal bowl (for $5) and leave it there for your future use.
Perhaps this is an Asian drinking culture phenomena. As I’ve not seen anything like it in other countries. It’s a strange twist on English, but I’ve heard it referred to as “bottle keep”. It reminds me, I have a bottle of Grey Goose vodka with my name on a tag sitting on a shelf for me at a jazz bar on Dempsey Hill in Singapore and an even older bottle of whiskey with my name on it sitting someplace at a club in Shinjuku (Tokyo, Japan)…
What were they for you ask? And no, this isn’t milk.
Makgeolli, or Korean rice wine, does have some properties similar to the dairy product with its color and creamy texture. It has a cloudy transparency and is a touch on the sweet side while retaining a bit of tartness to it. I believe it has an alcohol strength similar to a really strong beer (still under 10%). I personally think it goes well with spicier food, and helps to counteract any burning sensations on your tongue, much the same was as Lassi (minus the booze factor of course) does in Indian cooking.
The serving you see here is a smaller order, roughly the size of a mid-sized cereal bowl. A full order of makgeolli here comes in a larger metallic teapot, of which you can see many hanging on hooks in the kitchen. While trying to decide on our food selections, a few customers came in for a take away order of this alcoholic beverage, which were put into liquid holding containers that resembled plastic pop bottles. I’ll have to inquire as to how much that costs and how long it will keep fresh, as I have no idea on either point.
Between the two of us, we shared three dishes. The tookbegi bulgogi arrived first from the open kitchen, which is in full view from the dining area. I didn’t really much care for the version at Insadong (located just down the street and is considered by many to be one of the best Korean restaurants in the Lower Mainland), but this one really hit the spot! A hearty mix of vegetables (enoki mushrooms, green onions, carrots, etc.) and tender thin slices of beef surrounded in a clear and slightly sweet soup, came in a just-right portion and kept hot in the warmed bowl. One disappointment was the baechu (cabbage) kimchi however, poorly marinated or just simply too fresh to really hold any flavour. The kkadugi (daikon) kimchi was also on the large size and had to be cut up to make more manageable bites. And lastly, the steamed rice, was not too my full liking as it was somewhat mushy but since most of it ended up being spooned together with the broth, I suppose that was overcome.
The kimchi jjigae (Korean stew) was served in an interesting looking pot, which I believe is called a yangunnembi. It was less spicy than I expected and portion size was similar to the tookbegi bulgogi. I’d surely order this once again.
Not feeling quite full, or rather feeling the need to load up a bit more with the makgeolli bowl still holding up, a platter of modum jun (egg-battered and pan-fried fish, meat and vegetables) was ordered to round out our dinner. Specifically, slices of zucchini, red snapper, mini portabella mushrooms, and mini ground beef patties were the four items. I particularly liked the fish and the meaty mushrooms. The batter was sufficient enough to make your tastebuds realize that it wasn’t just the ingredient you were tasting, but also not so thick that it got lost in the coating. As for matching with makgeolli, I’d say perhaps not the best combination and these are better suited to beer.
If you can get over any fears you may have of being exposed to an entirely Korean setting and dining environment without any overt English language signage or menus, this place can definitely serve as your introduction to a minsok jujum. Perhaps eventually, you’ll even have your own makgeolli bowl on the shelf too.