3A-341 North Road
Sadly at times, a country’s cuisine gets condensed down to a single dish or style of cooking, when in fact the truth is that it holds many different elements and is comprised of great variety of ingredients and a diverse use of them. As I scan the various message boards and blogger sites when it pertains to posts about Korean cooking, I most often see the dominating theme of barbecue. With a strong meat culture here in North America, it probably makes sense that Korean grilling makes the top of the list when it comes to the popularity of this Asian country’s cuisine overseas. For it holds many similar traits: heat/fire, red meat, and sauces/marinades. All very easy to understand, even though the exact flavours may be different.
As years pass and a country’s cuisine establishes a familiar beachhead among the local populace, there comes a moment when the menu can open up to more and more dishes that showcase that nation’s food culture. For sure, there will be those early adopters who readily accept the new food “challenges” immediately, while those in the majority often lag behind until they feel those around them are also comfortable and ready to move further up the ethnic food ladder.
Much like how sushi had its niche origins in the late seventies in Canada and it now as universal as Starbucks on many street corners. I feel its really just a game of information and experience. In other words, the “growth” of understanding about more food in that genre comes from making the effort to learn about it and then trying it out for yourself. I do hope that many of our posts here at foodosophy hit on that same philosophy – helping to share some details about dishes and food items that some of our readers may not have known about or were hesitant to try out, be it out of fear, lack of knowledge or perhaps even both. And then encouraging you to go out and try it in your own backyard.
So with this post, I’d like to talk about some dishes that I have not really seen discussed much in other forums/sites and one dish that I’ve personally not yet encountered in the greater Vancouver area. Both were had at this smallish eatery along North Road in Coquitlam, next door to here and two doors down from here, that serves more casual, snack-like food items popular in Korean culture. In essence, it would fall under the bunsik category of Korean food. Things such as their namesake kimbab (veggie rice rolls), mandoo (dumplings), ramyeon (soup noodles) and the like can be had in a relaxed and clean, albeit fairly spartan space.
Tteokbokki. Depending on the spelling, you might see it listed as Topokki too. Either way, its this heavy looking, spicy dish with plenty of soft textured ingredients such as the tubular shaped tteok (rice flour cake), odeng (fish cake), onions and cabbage. The hot chili paste (gochujang) that encapsulates everything is tempered somewhat by a touch of sweetness from sugar. Now largely a street food that you get at vendors lined near transportation stations in South Korea, it goes pretty good with alcohol for long drinking sessions on a cold winter’s day. I’ve seen other variations of it that incorporate some proteins such as seafood (squid, octopus), but I tend to prefer this orthodox version for its simplicity. Apparently, tteokbokki derives from an ancient dish featured in the food of royalty centuries ago (p.s. if you have a chance to visit Seoul, I recommend you experience what Korean royal court cuisine is like at a place such as Sam Chung Gak, that recreates it masterfully in a very quiet, traditional setting). Here you can learn more about what a lengthy, and delicately constructed menu of food that must have existed a long time ago was like, but is now readily available to us “commoners”).
Changto Gukbap. Again derivatives of its spelling exist as with most English translations of Korean food. To summarize simply would be to describe this as very much as a working class stew, which could literally be translated as rice-in-soup. With humble origins, as a dish eaten by laborers scraping out a living in public markets such as a place like Namdaemun, where there is always plenty of things to buy and eat, but little time to take breaks when you actually work there. I suppose its like those great seafood stews that fishermen eat dockside after a long day out at sea. Pretty much dump what’s available/on hand, and cook up a deep, flavourful soup, with plenty of things to energize your body and get the nutrients you need. This particular changto gukbap was relatively mild and light when it came to the saltiness of the soup, which made it easy to swallow. It was basically all vegetables, aside from some strings of beef brisket inside. For those adverse to the fiery, spicy side of Korean cooking, this is probably a good entry point into the stews that make up Korean cuisine. And for the record, its the only place I’ve seen it on the menu here on the west coast.
So there you have it, hopefully a look at two dishes that probably don’t get a lot of attention when you see them on Korean restaurant menus in town. I hope its been of some interest and you will venture out and give them a shot one day soon. Kamsa hamnida (thank you)!