Doubleheader of Korean food – Vancouver
With a friend in town visiting the city for the first time, after a busy day of hitting the usual tourist spots, we headed down to Robson Street to ease our hunger pains. Given the chilly weather of the day, we both had a craving for something hot. Our first stop… Ap Gu Jung (1642 Robson St.). Probably named after the neighbourhood in Seoul of the same name, best known for its trendy shops and restaurants/bars, I’d known of this place but had never actually gone in until today. Just past five p.m., the place was already quite busy with most of the tables on the main floor occupied, and the two sections of the second floor already quite boisterous with what appeared to be birthday celebrations. A good start I thought after our group of four was quickly seated. Scanning the scene, I noticed that remnants of the previous tenant (one of my friends who is a much longer resident of the city than I, noted that it used to house a Greek restaurant) were still apparent in the wall décor and the mismatched lighting fixtures in the space. After deciding on sharing a big Budae Jjigae (the Korean stew that has its origins from the Korean War, when leftover foodstuffs from American soldiers were used when food was scarce and cooked up together in a pot of hot water), and of course the requisite Kalbi (beef short ribs). The Budae Jjigae came out first and it looked alright but the first spoonful of the soup was a cause of disappointment as it was nowhere near as spicy as it should have been, nor had the right depth of flavour, and the slices of sausages were overpowering the base taste of the soup. The Kalbi looked fantastic as the hot plate came from the kitchen already cooked, but the first bite was again a letdown as the flavour was just not there. It wasn’t the meat itself but rather the marinade was just not strong enough. The attentive service, and there were plenty of them around, were quickly asked if they could bring some dipping sauce to help out and they did, but I really wished the meat had the flavour already cooked inside. Granted it was only two items off the menu, but oh-for-two in my opinion left me with a bad taste in my mouth (literally), and I am not sure if I will be back anytime soon. If I’m in this end of Robson, I think I’d much prefer the nearby Jang Mo Jib, or Norboo.
After some shopping up and down the strip, our group was in the mood for some drinks so after debating a few places, we went with Chungdam Ahn (just off Robson on Cardero Street). It bills itself as a Korean ‘izakaya’ and stepping inside felt like I’d instantly been transplanted to Seoul, a place I’ve been to many times, into one of its restaurants/bars popular with the twenty-something crowd. It was pretty spartan with the design, with a few booth along the back and some tables in the centre of the floor. A kitchen was visible along the wall where the main entrance is. Dimly lit, the place also had music playing, which got louder as the night grew longer. They had a decent menu filled with ‘anju’ items – the kind of dishes you’d find in places where alcohol is the main thing and side dishes are needed. We picked one of my favorites, Dubu Kimchi (fresh uncooked tofu served with cabbage kimchee sautéed with chopped green onions in a sesame soy sauce and slices of pork/bacon) and it tasted just right and was the perfect accompaniment to the Makgeolli (a sweet, milky rice based alcohol). As well, a dish of Pajeon (Korean pancake, similar to Chinese green onion pancake), containing green onions and squid. This was very authentic and flavourful as well. I was quite surprised by the quality of the food here, thinking they would be more an afterthought in this drinking establishment. I’ll be back to try more things on the menu, with or without the Makgeolli.