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