Vancouver Chowdown - Pojang Macha, Korean Street Food
Last night, for the first ever Vancouver Chowdown, a bunch of us Vancouver Chowhounds converged at Pojang Macha, located in a non-descript stripmall on East Broadway. Pojang Macha specializes in Korean food-cart cuisine. The restaurant derives its name from the Korean term for "covered wagon" ( these street carts are often tarped over in the Korean winter). To simulate this covered wagon aesthetic, the proprietors covered the interior walls and ceilings with a shock of orange tarp. For tables, they used what looked like steel oil drums with metal tops.
Here's an blog that provides an excellent description of pojangmacha http://fatman-seoul.blogspot.com/2004/03/street-food-2.html .
We were seated at the hotpot tables in the middle of the room. The hotpots contained a continuously simmering broth that the servers augmented with water and flavourings (eg crab shells) throughout the evening. The hotpot had already been busy simmering skewers of odeng (fish cake) when we arrived. We helped ourselves to bowls of this light but flavourful broth between courses all evening.
At the start the event, we had a quick chat with the chef to indicated our desire to keep our meal within a $20 per person budget. We negotiated what amounts to a tasting menu of Korean street food. The meal started off with a panchan (a swirl of Korean appetizers/starters that often includes kimchee, seaweed, marinated vegetables, and other little bites) - ours came with a big block of uncooked soft tofu with a pleasing soy and sesame oil based sauce. The panchan was served on army mess-hall style sectioned plates.
The next course was a trio of BBQ skewers similar to Japanese kushiyaki (grayelf: that is the word we were looking for). The skewers had a distinctly Korean flavour profile - sweeter and spicier than their Japanese counterparts. Some at our table were aghast to learn that they had just enjoyed chicken gizzard in all its chewy wonder. LOL.
The third course turned out to be nearly everyone's favourite dish - the seafood hotteok - Korean pancake stuffed with seafood. The dish is very similar to the Japanese okonomiyaki. The hotteok was stuffed with a variety of seafood (mainly squid) and greens. It was crunchy on the outside from the layer of egg noodles as an outer covering.
The third course was what seemed to be a sukiyaki - tender slivered beef suated in a slightly sweet soy and sesame oil sauce. Very tasty and familiar.
The fourth course was the the odeng which had already been simmering since we arrived. The texture was soft. The simmering broth contributed a faint, subtle crabi-ness to the fish cake.
The fifth course was a spicy wheat noodle dish called (IIRC) goldong myeon. It was sweet and spicy from the red pepper and gochujang, a fermented condiment common in Korean cooking. It was very tasty and not as spicy as it looked.
The sixth and final course was a somewhat of a spicy stir-fry of pork served with a fan of medium-firm uncooked tofu.
Since the food here is meant to simulate streetfood, I set my expectations accordingly and was very pleased. Overall, I would say that that the food here is quite decent - similar in quality to some of the Korean izakaya on Robson St. The food here is also more inexpensive than the places on Robson - probably owing to the downmarket locale - thus, cheap rent. Six courses for $20 and we all left fully sated.
I observed that the restaurant was full of Korean and Japanese diners....one particular table in the front corner had a boisterous bunch of Japanese businessmen who definitely enhanced the authenticity of the experience.
Wow that's awesome fmed. I was going to post the question about Pojang Macha and if anyone has tried it yet. Now I just have to convince my darling hubbie to trek to that neighborhood. Previously when it was the House of Tofu, hubbie refused to go due to the locale.
One more question, are the entrees pretty huge? I find korean food tends to be on the large size to make up for the expensive pricing. So when it's just the two of us, we end up having too much food due to wanting variety.
re: gourmet wife
Kudos on another great report, fmed. And please tell me how your pictures don't look like they were taken while spelunking -- your camera is obviously superior to mine in low light :-).
I was looking perhaps inordinately forward to meeting some local 'Hounds and was not disappointed. fmed, peter_v (and roomie D), ck1234, twinkienic, S the lurker, me and the SO made for a very convivial group. It was extra fun to hit a place that was new to all of us, though several attendees were much more familiar with Korean food generally than I.
I liked all the courses but would likely not order the udon-like noodle dish again as I found the pasta a bit gummy and overly picante without the requisite flavour balancing that I seek in flamy dishes. The spicy pork kushiyaki on the other hand hit a great balance between taste and heat -- I could scarf a big ol' bowl of that stuff. I think the final dish had kim chee in it which I'm always a bit wary of but I really enjoyed it served hot with the meaty bits of baconesque pork and the great contrast of the little slabs of tofu. We were all offered a bowl of rice a bit late in the game as well, which I would have liked to have had a wee bit earlier.
The service was friendly and attentive generally. The atmosphere was very like sitting in a tent, down to the errant drafts that had most of us keeping our jackets on, though I don't think anyone found it uncomfortable. If you go, though, be aware you will smell like broth when you leave :-).
I would like to return to retaste some of the high points and try out some other dishes such as dumplings and the kimchi version of the pancake. As I mentioned to the group, heading out to Broadway and Fraser is more convenient for us than the Denman/Robson parking fandango.
>> And please tell me how your pictures don't look like they were taken while spelunking -- your camera is obviously superior to mine in low light :-).
I've learned a few things - sitting by a window (works in the daytime only, obviously) trying to avoid casting your own shadow on the dish, keeping the camera steady using props (eg, grasping wine bottles, chair backs, etc.)
I'm not happy with how the images turned out, actually. It was very dark in there. The photos were all a bit too blurry.
Also, I always adjust the image in Photoshop or iPhoto. The contrast always has to be adjusted. If you are on PC/Windows....I suggest the Picasa 3 software http://picasa.google.com/ . iPhoto and Picasa both have a one-button magic fix for images. Often, using this feature is all the that you will need.
It was fun to meet you all and I am looking forward to the Marrow Bone Bonanza.