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Apr 28, 2009 07:35 PM

Spring Bibimbap special at Wonjo...

As some of you may know, elsewhere on this board, I have bemoaned the absence of authentic bibimbap in Korean restaurants here. I am happy to report that a truly authentic bibimbap is being served right now as a spring time special at the beloved Wonjo (aka Korean Traditional Restaurant) on Yonge Street. It is not on the regular menu and only advertised on the wall (in Korean) and in local newspapers -- it's advertised as "hyunmi bap" and "san chae bibimbap" -- literally, this translates as "brown rice" and "mountain vegetable bibimbap". You get a choice of having the bibimbap on brown rice.

What makes this special and authentic are the toppings: in this case, dandelion, fernbrake (kosari), chinamul (sorry, don't know the english word for this), sannamul (don't know this one in English either), along with the more familiar kongnamul (soy bean sprout), spinach, carrots, ground beef, egg....I think there were a few other toppings but these are what I recall. Carrots, imho, are not authentic, but they do add nice colour here, and is used sparingly. The dandelion, fernbrake and chinamul are the greens that are not normally found on restaurant bibimbaps and indeed, fernbrake is the hard-to-find fern that are found only in the springtime and in the wild (ok, hard to find in Korea, plentiful in Canada, but illegal to pick here in the parks/conservation lands up north) -- the fernbrake is timeconsuming to pick and must be dried then reconstituted for the bibimbap dish so no wonder most restos do not include this, as all this is expensive ! This dish at Wonjo is only $10, a real steal in my books -- trust me, I've picked fernbrake for years (dragged by various non-law-abiding Korean elders on our drives up north) and it's no fun task -- and if I were selling my handpicked fernbrake on top of rice, I'd be charging a lot more than 10 bucks!

Which brings me to another point: as we feasted wordlessly, hardly coming up for air, we casually asked where the owner was so that we could complement her on this new menu item. The waitress said that she was up north picking ferns as the bibimbap special was selling really well and they were running out of ingredients! We were amazed! If any of you have picked fernbrake and other wild ferns, (or just know of mothers who do) you'd know how jealously hand-harvested greens are guarded and how sparingly they are used (only for special occasions!) So it's truly amazing how generous they are with these ingredients on the bibimbap. The waitress also mentioned that all the side dishes (kimchi, etc) were house-made, with cabbage/radish/veggies that were mostly home-grown by the restaurant owner.

The bibimbap is served in a stone bowl and the rice is brown rice mixed with some black rice and beans. Hot sauce on the side, a side of radish soup and seven more side banchans. The radish soup is quite bland, but soothing after mouthfuls of the fiery bibimbap (heat you can control by the amount of hot sauce) - btw, I like putting in a couple of spoons of soup to the bibimbap to aid in mixing the dry ingredients. personally, I don't like fried egg sunnyside up and the waitress was kind enough to do an overeasy one for me. Very accommodating, attentive staff, too!

This is the closest thing to the home-style and authentic bibimbap I would get at home and for those of you that are not able to get it at home, I'd highly recommend a visit to Wonjo. This is the real thing.

Korean Traditional Restaurant - 6016 Yonge St., North York

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  1. You should move to Britain. Bracken grows everywhere and is considered a weed. You would have as much gosari as you want.

    Thank you for the review - I will try it.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation!
      I had lunch there yesterday and this is the best bibimbap I've ever had. Not being Korean, I just ordered the "special" bibimbap and got what you described with brown rice, it was an extremely healthy meal. One of the nice ladies mixed it with the sauce for us tableside, how reminiscent of proper old school caesar salad :)
      If you can't eat too spicy like me (I like spicy food, I just can't handle the pain in my mouth), I would suggest a 50-50 mix of the Korean hot sauce and the "foreigner" sauce, the Korean sauce has way more flavour and is a definite enhancement.
      I also noticed they have marinated crabs! I've been hearing about these from my Korean co-worker for years, now I plan to go back and have some for dinner. I was told they only have it during the Spring. I will probably head back up when the weather heats up and get me some naeng-myun.
      Eat well, live well!
      PS I know fernbrakes (bracken) as fiddleheads (which you can buy at Loblaws for a premium, but at least they sell them). They are sold and eaten at a slightly more advanced stage in growth than what was in the bibimbap, but not before they become unfurled and "weedy". I can't wait to cook some up.

      6 Replies
      1. re: vivo

        Hey Vivo, glad you enjoyed it!

        I have yet to try the marinated crabs so please report back when you do!

        Palustrious, I didn't know that Britain was overrun with bracken -- the question is, is it legal to pick it!?!

        1. re: berbere

          i'm going to assume that the obvious answer will be... when they run out or cannot pick anymore, but when do you suppose they will stop offering this dish?

          1. re: pinstripeprincess

            I'd give it another month or recollection from the years of bracken-picking is that the height of the season hits around Victoria Day long weekend and after that, there's no real reason to go

            1. re: berbere

              ah! that's more than enough time. thanks!

        2. re: vivo

          I thought fiddleheads are from the ostrich fern? or from bracken as well?

          1. re: Teep

            interesting link, teep - I can only speak from my limited experience and knowledge gleaned from following elders but indeed, in korean cuisine, fiddleheads and bracken are two different 'namul', equally appreciated but each with flavours. bracken is known as 'gosari' in korean, and fiddleheads are 'gobi'. bracken tends to be dried mostly (turning a dark brown colour) then reconstituted before adding to dishes. fiddleheads are eaten fresh and dried, but when dried, they retain a more green colour. both ferns are great in that they are tender and soak up flavours easily while retaining a distinctive woodsy, nutty, sweetness. for those of you who do try this bibimbap at wonjo, before mixing, try picking up the individual 'namul', and taste each veggie separately - the flavours are really unique!

        3. Sounds good, I've never been there but will try it out tonight and order this special bibimbap.

          1. I haven't tried the bibimbap special, but I can say with certainty their soondobu is the best rendition I've had in Toronto.


            1. Tried this special bibimbap today. The new ingredients were very nice, I liked them, however the egg on top was small and there was no running yolk which I like. Not sure how authentic that is. I did not get any brown rice or soup....

              Overall I thought it was good but nothing really that special compared to what I'd get elsewhere. I guess I should have asked previously for the soup and brown rice.

              Side dishes were better than average, the beans are my favorite.

              4 Replies
              1. re: szw

                hmm, szw, was it busy when you were there? you don't have to ask for the soup and brown rice, they're pretty much automatically brought to you -- i'm surprised, frankly, the servers are so attentive... for me, the egg don't make the bibimbap at all - runny or no runny yolk - with bibimbap, it's all about the namul (wild greens/ferns) and bap (rice): both the quantity of toppings as well as the quality of the rice!

                1. re: berbere

                  Nope not busy at all. I was there at 7:15, a table of two and a family of 6 who all had their food already. I asked for the special bibimbap and also pointed to the flyers posted up with the picture of the dish, but the one I ended up with had white rice.

                  1. re: szw

                    i'm sorry to hear that: the rice makes all the difference! i would have sent it back -- and have sent things back at that place in the past, thanks to the very loud korean grannies i hang with, they have no qualms at all about yelling into the kitchen and telling them how to cook the food or how to do this or that dish! ;-)

                    btw, the soondubu is the best here, better than Buk Chang Dong! what i like especially at this place is that once they scoop up the stone bowl rice, you can ask them to pack the burnt rice at the bottom for you to take home and you can enjoy it later as a snack (the rice and soondoobu are filling enough at one sitting).

                    1. re: berbere

                      It's nearly spring! Does anyone know when will Wonjo will begin this special spring bibimbap offering for 2010?