Hanwoori Korean Restaurant
5740 Imperial Street
[Thanks to foodosophy reader michelle from Australia, for providing the push to do this particular post!]
Aside from Insadong out in Coquitlam, when it comes to the top of mind ranking for Korean restaurants in the greater Vancouver area, Hanwoori generally gets strong billing in local magazines, online boards and word of mouth. So it is somewhat surprising that throughout all of my dining out experiences with Korean food, I had not yet visited this popular establishment out in Burnaby. Until now.
On a late weekday evening, the parking lot in front of the restaurant was completely full, resulting in having to park along the street nearby. I began to worry if we would be able to get a table, even for just two people, as upon opening the door it was clear it was a busy night. Even the larger separated rooms were filled to capacity. Luckily, they had just cleared one lone table and we were led to the area near the cashier’s bar. It was a brightly lit and homey place, with the buzz of conversation and sizzling meat providing ample atmosphere.
As I was walking down the aisle, I scanned various tables to see what they had chosen to eat. I suppose I didn’t even need to use my eyes, as the strong scent of cooking barbecue gave me all the information that I needed. Interestingly, I found that much like at Chosun, people here were here primarily for the meat. Also similar was that rather than English or Korean being heard around the room, most of the people were speaking Chinese. It seemed more families here though, whereas at Cho Sun I see more groups of friends. With the communal aspect of eating barbecue, I suppose this all makes logical sense.
Alas, large quantities of animal protein was not what we were aiming to eat and instead after perusing the quite extensive menu, we elected from the larger stews section. Our eyes were quickly drawn to the Mushroom Gam Ja Tang. I’ve never had it so loaded with this earthy ingredient so notably, but given that it matches well with the heavy potato component of this dish, it made perfect sense to try.
Listed as a serving for two, the size of the large cooking pot that was brought to our table and cooked over our portable gas heating unit was enormous! Thankfully all of the prep work was done back in the kitchen and all we had to do was turn on the fire and let it cook for a while.
Generally, I’m quite a fan of mushrooms so this was a complete delight. White button, enoki, oyster, and I think another two kinds that I can’t name off the top of my head. Once cooked through and set to simmer, the digging in began. A large ladle and serving bowls were on hand to help out. No table side service for this, not that it was needed.
The breakdown of the starch from the potatoes added the key flavour component to the stew, along with the prominent taste coming from the chunks of pork backbones that had portions of the meat tenderly clinging on. All of this was layered together beautifully with the spicy kick of most Korean stews/soups, with some of it coming directly from the kimchi contained within the mixture. I’d recommend having a side of steamed rice to eat this meal, to help give it some more “filling” character and to ease some of the heat on your tongue.
The volume ended up being so large that even after eating a pair of servings, we had the remainder to go and it was put into two mid-sized plastic containers. I imagine the full amount would have easily filled four or five of these takeway buckets!
And to wrap up, the Korean after meal drink of Sikhye, a sweetened rice liquid, in this case containing some cooked rice kernels and pine nuts. A nice way to ease the spiciness in your mouth.
Apologies to the serious carnivores among you who were probably expecting a meat-fueled gorgefest. I do my best to try and introduce some lesser known or infrequently unexplored parts of Korean restaurant menus – and think this is the first time we’ve profiled gam ja tang. If we had some chillier February winter weather to go along with this hearty, body warming soup, then we’d be set. But I guess you can’t have it all…