Dae Bak Bon Ga – Vancouver, BC

Dae Bak Bon Ga
1947 West 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-8259

One of the earliest posts that I personally wrote about here on foodosophy was for a restaurant of the same name, Dae Bak Bon Ga.  Its actually the mother ship if you will of this secondary location in Kitsilano, that’s been open for a while now and I’ve tried a few times already.  Among a certain circle of native Korean friends, this is their chosen favorite for a taste of home here in Vancouver.  As such, I trust their word and try to remember all the Korean dishes that I ate this past summer when I visited South Korea and from my previous trips to that peninsula.  Upon my first visit to this 4th Avenue spot, I did pick up that the service level was an improvement over many other Korean restaurants around town and there was a notable level of “refinement” and focused attention on customers aura that seemed to consume the place.  It was though in their very early days, so perhaps that might have had something to do with it.

As this meal was a farewell of sorts for a member of this particular circle of friends, we opted to have a round of drinks to begin with.  This was soon followed by our opening dish of bossam.  It was a nice thicker slice cut, generously spread across the plate.  A decent balance of meat and fat in each piece as well, and it had been steamed quite thoroughly and thus who like it more “well done” and less soft and fatty, this would be up your bossam alley.  For those unfamiliar, its practice to wrap up a slice or two in the tender lettuce or cabbage that accompanies this, and add a smearing of the spicy paste mixture (often with some dried seafood ingredients) you see in the top left of this image to complete the flavor package.  Nature’s always the best eating vessel supplier.  The wrapping helps cut through the oiliness you may experience as well, and as its been steamed and cooled as well, you miss a bit of the crispiness but has the greater flexibility and malleable properties to better suit it as a foldable envelope.

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Wang Ga Ma Restaurant – Coquitlam, BC

Wang Ga Ma Restaurant
#450 – 329 North Road
Coquitlam, BC V3K 3V8
(604) 936 6866

Wang Ga Ma on Urbanspoon

I’m often torn when I am head out for grocery shopping. Do I eat at home before I leave, partly to help control any sudden pangs of hunger that may arise and cause me to exceed my planned purchases? Or do I go on an empty stomach, as an excuse to visit another restaurant that I’ve been hoping to try and that is located near the store? Either way, I figure I can’t lose so my dilemma is not much of one in the end.

Wang Ga Ma Restaurant is located in a U-shaped strip mall complex that houses the popular Han Ah Reum (or H-Mart) Korean supermarket chain, just off North Road as you enter the city of Coquitlam. At the H-Mart, its easy to satisfy one’s hunger through the ready-to-eat food items in this market – from the take away kimbap rolls, sets of nigiri sushi, and other Korean fast foods available from the in-store kitchen located along the east wall of the building. I’ve previously dined in some of the restaurants in this same strip mall (Blue Sea Seafood) and general area (Insadong, House of Tofu Soup). But there are still others that I have yet to step inside of, and on this occasion, I was able to strike another one off the hit list. All in the name of Foodosophy, of course!

With the dominance of Korean cuisine in just a few block radius of this location, I am sure the competition are all wary of each other and try to do their best to capture a loyal following in the community. While others seem to try and focus on one particular dish, Wang Ga Ma is more of an all-encompassing place, featuring staples such as noodles, soups, and hot pots – in other words, Korean comfort foods. Deceptively large as a result of the wall of mirrors filling an entire wall as you enter the doors, you’re immediately put at home as it does feel very casual with its partitioned off seating areas, from tables of two up to larger tables that could accommodate up to eight people. The kitchen is visible through a window on one wall, with a large walk-in space to it also seen from the seating area, through which the servers scurry back and forth, often using a rolling cart to bring out hot steaming dishes of food that are too hot to carry by hand.

As it seems I am close to exhausting the hunt for the best Soondubu dish in greater Vancouver, I decided to switch my focus to Seolleongtang. For those new to Korean cuisine, and for those who are not very fond of spicy dishes, Seolleongtang is probably a very safe bet. After all, its a simple combination of a mild ox bone broth (though my guess is that pork bones are used as a replacement as well in Canada), that is seasoned with green onions and your own discretionary amount of sea salt to help flavor the broth. The version of this dish here was just average in my opinion. I think the broth is much richer and therefore better tasting at Seoul Dookbegi.

Thin wheat noodles or steamed white rice is often added to give it more volume. At Wang Ga Ma, the Seolleongtang comes with a special treat – hot stone bowl steamed rice. There’s just something about rice cooked in such vessels, as it adds a difference taste component to it, making each rice kernel seem that much more moist and tender.

The kimchi plate came in a very rustic form – with each strand of the cabbage uncut, as was each length of the daikon version. For the uninitiated, some sharp scissors and a serrated knife are provided to cut it into smaller pieces which you need to do yourself. I was quite impressed with the flavor that had been incorporated into each variant, a strong kick of heat, and the daikon was particularly fresh and crisp when bit into. The above photo was taken after I had made a significant dent into the plate before I realized my over eagerness.

The plate of sliced boiled pork belly (known as ‘Bossam‘) was our other selection during this meal. Served with the usual sides of blanched lettuce leaves and a spicy kimchi mixture to be wrapped with the pork, I came to the conclusion that this again was fairly standard. I’d say the version to be had at Pojang Macha is slightly better with the pork.

For a relatively new home-style Korean restaurant, this one fits the image of the typically clean, with limited service and chatter from workers, that you might expect of places in this mold. It was very busy when we walked in during the afternoon, so a good sign that its known and frequented by locals, most likely those who are also shopping at the H-Mart. I am thinking that based on the level of satisfaction I had with the dishes, that a part of their success is from their location, as comparable dishes that taste better can be found at other locations. And I assure you, this opinion was not influenced at all by the empty stomach I had when I entered the place. (SMILE)

Wang Ga Ma on Urbanspoon

Pojang Macha – Vancouver, BC

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

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?

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

Pojang Macha on Urbanspoon