(This is one in a series of posts about the changing face of Kingsway).
Until such time as Korean celebrity chef David Chang opens a Momofuku in Vancouver (Toronto – you are one lucky city), we will have to be satisfied with the handful of Korean BBQs, fusion restaurants and food carts scattered all over town. Korean-Mexican tacos are easy to come by; as is Korean Fried Chicken which had a bit of an uptick in my trend watch over the last year or two.
We do have some recourse. Greater Vancouver actually has some pretty good Korean food for a city its size. It is home to 46,000 expats – compared to say the 26,000 Vietnamese (whose gastronomic impact here is far greater than their numbers would suggest). Just don’t look for a Momofuku-style joint because you won’t find anything even remotely close.
Those who live in the city are familiar with the area on lower Robson which for all intents and purposes is our own Little Korea. The restaurants that occupy this area are frequented primarily by a younger Korean crowd – mostly ESL students who come to eat have some home cooking and “anju” – food which you eat to accompany beer, soju, and the shrill K-pop playing over the sound system and on the flat screens that ring the restaurant.
In the area known as Burquitlam – at North Road by Lougheed Mall is our other Little Korea. The area is dotted with more authentic Korean restaurants – many of whom serve families or an older crowd. We don’t have many such traditional places within the city proper. Kingsway – as it so happens – is home to one such restaurant.
Seoul Doogbaegi has been quietly serving traditional Korean food to a predominantly Korean crowd on a fairly non-descript section of Kingsway for quite some time – perhaps since mid-1980’s? It was easy to miss this place since – for the longest time – the signage outside was all in Korean. It stands apart from the usual Vietnamese and Chinese establishments that define the area.
A dookbaegi (or more commonly “ddukbaegi”) is an type of Korean glazed earthenware pot which is traditionally used to cook stews and soups – and so it is not a coincidence that Seoul Dookbaegi’s strengths lie primarily in dishes within these categories. Their spicy tofu stew (“soondoubu”) is one of their specialties. The more adventurous can try their blood and organ stews and noodles. For the less adventurous, their dolsot (stone bowl) bibimbap is a respectable rendition this classic dish – exhibiting the much desired “noorungji” – the layer of burnt rice that encrusts the bottom of the hot stone bowl.
Each time I am here, the place is full of Korean diners (I believe my dining partner and I were the only non-Koreans on this particular day). Service can be spotty as they usually have but one server – a busy middle-aged woman who has been here forever. When the place is busy – you will need to get your order right the first time. Need more rice in the middle of your meal? Forget it. More tea? You should have asked for it earlier. Let that be a learning moment for next time.
It is interesting to note that the restaurant and a few other businesses along this same strip are set in a row of one-story buildings which from the look of things are being torn down one by one to be replaced by new four story development stamped from a familiar template – a generic four story mixed use building with retail on the ground floor and residences (priced in the $300,000 range). They are more modern version of the type of four-story row buildings that were built here in the first wave of gentrification in the 1980’s…around the time the original of the so called “leaky condos” were built.
Right next door to Seoul Dookbaegi is one such development – residences are priced in the $300,000 range; and the block just to east is another new development using the same four story formula – right now a giant hole with a crane sticking out of it. The days are numbered for this this little strip and all the buildings around it.