True Seoul Food: Dinner at Insadong (Vancouver)
Late report on last week's dinner at Insadong in Coquitlam. Located in the Korean area off North Rd, this gem is worth the trip as the impeccably authentic food is astounding. I've had a fair amount of Korean food before, mostly BBQ, but Insadong offers a great number of dishes I'd never even heard of.
We got there around 6 on a Friday and barely got in; the line was out the door when we left. The staff speaks is friendly but hurried, and speaks limited English—the kind of place where you might do well looking at what other people have and saying "I'd like that." Although the encyclopedic menu had a variety of specialty seafood concoctions and multi-diner specialties, we played it simple by ordering what we thought would be a light meal: "grilled fish soup."
The meal began with a variety of salads and kimchee: spicy, but not overwhelming. It turns out this means grilled fish AND soup. The fish is, well, a fish. A whole fish, which, judging from its deliciousness, was apparently not long in transit. Grilled over very high heat, with crispy skin and perfectly moist interior. We had two kinds, Yellow Croaker and Mackerel. Surprisingly, the Mackerel—which I've generally thought of as a greasy, stinky beast—was terrific, with white flesh rather than the oily grey I'd expected.
The soup contained strips of beef, tofu and hot pepper rings, among other things, in a strong-flavored broth that had a fermented, miso-like taste only stronger. I found the fermentation off-putting at first but it grew on me as I ate more.
One caveat: service was quick but getting the check was not, nor the credit-card retrieval. Once the meal is delivered, servers abandon you and have to be flagged down.
The unbelievable part? Dinner for two: under $25 plus tip.
If I go back (and I'm planning it already), it'd be nice to bring a large group and try the tableside BBQ dishes as well.