Insadong Korean Barbecue and Seafood Restaurant
403 North Road
(604) 936 3778
Vancouver is blessed with a myriad of choices when it comes to Korean cuisine. Already, I’ve personally visited a selection of them, with related reports posted here on Foodosophy. By no means is this a complete listing, as many other known establishments such as Book Kyung Ban Jeom, Norboo, Seoul Royal House, etc. have yet to be visited and reviewed. In time, I will no doubt get to them.
Some background (and please, take it with a grain of salt – I am no demographer or population sociologist, so spare me any diatribe or anal nitpicking of the data)… the ethnic Korean population as noted in the 2006 census for the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) of Vancouver was published as being between 1% ~ 2%. This is the case for other ethnic groups as well, such as ‘Southeast Asian’, ‘West Asian’, ‘Latin American’, and others (with the largest communities being identified as ‘Chinese’ at 18.2%, followed by ‘South Asian’ at 9.9% and ‘Filipinos’ at 3.8%). Thus as you can see, they are not a large piece of the ethnic pie, so to speak.
On my recent visit to the neighboring city of Coquitlam when I dined at the satisfying Blue Sea, I spotted Insadong at the intersection of North Road and Lougheed Highway, as I was making the return drive home. If you’ve ever been to Coquitlam, perhaps you’ll feel as I did and think that a large part of this reported Korean population in the Vancouver CMA is all based here, given the prevalence of so many Korean businesses and signs in Hangul. Frankly, it could easily rival the likes of the Wilshire/Hancock Park neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and the Shin-Okubo area in Tokyo, for having a densely concentrated Korean community that manages to exist in its own little bubble all within another country’s society. A bit surprising, considering the small percentage of the population that are Korean.
Incidentally, Insadong is actually a neighborhood in Seoul that is best known for its drive to preserve Korean culture, with shops selling old antique wares and classic buildings such as tea houses that serve it in the old ways. I’d visited one of these many years ago on one of my earliest visits to South Korea and found it to be an enlightening experience. I think the operators of ‘Insadong, the restaurant’ have tried to incorporate some of these elements, with some Korean-themed artwork displayed in the glass cases in the front of the house.
Stepping inside the entrance that is situated on the side of the building that does not face Lougheed Highway, you are immediately drawn into a deceptively large space (if you were to envision the size from just from the exterior of the building) From this waiting area, you can see the various tanks of live seafood (fish, crab, and lobster). Upon being seated, I could still see the tanks from my table. There are also several private rooms in the back of the restaurant which you pass by on the way to the restroom. I think these are used most often for parties, celebrations, etc. and not something that you can use unreserved.
Completely famished, I went off the board and picked a non-traditional item as an appetizer in the sweet and spicy glazed, deep fried chicken wings. They were larger than the standard size ones you get at say a local Canadian pub during happy hour, and thus a good amount of meat was on the bones, all encased in a nice crispy crust. As expected, these wings got my taste buds yearning for a nice cold Korean beer.
A short while ago on a repeat visit to DBBG with some other friends, including one who had lived for a few years in several parts of Korea as a student, he had ordered this dish which intrigued me. Not normally a big fan of bulgogi, as I prefer my meat to be seasoned more savory than sweet, I had not seen it done like this in a Korean restaurant before, soup-based and almost like a Japanese sukiyaki. The broth was neither too light nor too heavy, and the slices of beef combined with the onions melded well in the sweeter flavored soup. I would not say this dish blew me away, but would see it as a heartwarming meal as the days get colder in Vancouver’s autumn.
I’m beginning to sense that since the beginning of Foodosophy, that I’ve written about soondubu frequently. The reason being, it is perhaps my most favorite spicy Korean jjigae (stew) dish. In Insadong, I think I have discovered the most flavorful and authentic tasting version in the GVA. The rich seafood flavor that is infused into the spicy gochujang-based soup was the best I’ve had outside of Korea. The soft tofu was plentiful and combined with the green onions and mushrooms, made for a complex texture medley bite after bite. I always prefer to eat this with a side of steamed white rice, scooping a spoonful of it into the broth.
I’d heard rumors that Insadong is quite popular and respected in the Korean community, with immigrants/new Canadians and short stay students alike, as well as with local media publications (e.g. ‘best Korean’ in the 2008 Golden Plates Readers Choice Awards by the Georgia Straight). Word-of-mouth has been my introduction to this place, and I must thank those who recommended it to me, despite the needed drive out to Coquitlam. I am sure there are other Korean gems in the neighborhood, as it has now been two-for-three in terms of satistifying dining experiences (the lone disappointment so far being the House of Tofu Soup). If any readers have other suggestions in the area, please feel free to leave a note in the comments section.