Monday, January 19, 2015

Toronto's (north) Korea Town - or, How I Ate For Forty-Eight Hours Straight

More stories from my holidays.

With 3 shootings in Ottawa in the last 48 hours, it was time to leave for peaceful Toronto.

One thing I miss when I am up north in Nunavut is that sense of belonging to my Korean heritage. I am one of the very few Koreans in Nunavut and the only one in the Kitikmeot region. I consider myself to be a multi-faceted person, so being a Korean-Canadian is not the only thing to define me, but it is an important part of my identity, and sometimes it's nice to be back in a place with lots of other fellow Korean-Canadians. Like in Toronto.

We were in Toronto for about 48 hours. We pretty much spent the entire time eating.

Ah, Korean food, how much I missed you. Back at home in Cambridge Bay, sometimes my husband will cook kimchi chigae or I'll fix up some kimbap. In Ottawa, people speak of going to "the Korean restaurant" as though it is a uniform solitary type of cuisine, usually in the form of bulgogi, bibimbap or sushi (which is actually Japanese). But in Toronto, there are so many choices. So many restaurants each with their own specialty. The Myungdong place that specializes in mandu dumplings, kalguksu noodles, and shabu shabu. Buk Chang Dong which is my go to place for soondubu chigae (soft tofu stew). The Ichiban restaurants that is a Korean take on Japanese cuisine. Even the food court at the Galleria supermarket has its treasures.  So no, I didn't go to the new aquarium or the Aga Khan Museum while I was in Toronto. I didn't even step a foot downtown. My entire trip to Toronto was spent in North York, mostly around Yonge and Sheppard, amongst my peeps eating and drinking,and I have no regrets, although I do have a few extra pounds.

My trip of glorious gluttony started off at our relatives' home, where they had ordered Korean food to be catered to the house.  Lots of seafood. Make no mistake. We ate a lot at this dinner.

what are you looking at

Then as the older generation sensibly got ready for bed, us youngsters headed for the Yonge and Finch area (which I affectionately like to refer to as "North Korea Town", to distinguish it from the other Korea town, down at Bloor and Christie), to eat some more.

First we stopped off at my cousin's condo, where we took a break from dinner by eating more snacks and having a few relaxing drinks. Then we headed out to try out the soju bangs.

Korean-style drinking is a wonderful cultural experience that must be tried. For one thing, the accompaniment of food with your drink (anju) is essential and many Korean bars will serve for an assortment of dishes to go with your drink for free, somewhat similar to the concept of the Spanish tapas. I am of the strong opinion that this is a practice that North American establishments should adopt. Waistlines may bulge, but it also stops you from getting ridiculously wasted.

What do you drink? Soju, of course. Poured for you by someone else, preferably your host or someone younger than you, with both of yours hands holding the receiving glass. With a toast, possibly as part of a drinking game that involves a lot of singing. Chased down with cheap beer. It could be Molson; doesn't have to be a fine beer, because beer is just what you drink between your sips of soju.

one of the brands of soju. This name means "like the first time". Koreans love to be nostalgic about innocence.

The first place we  hit up was The Fry, which despite its very English sounding name, was a very Korean soju bar. This place is known for having one of the best Korean fried chicken in Toronto, so of course we had to order a couple of giant platter of chicken to go with our drinks. Plus more anju, in the form of corn, chips, salad, and other random snacks.

We were eating at the Fry to kill time until a table was ready at the joint next door, Han Ba Tang. The manager knew our crowd and visited us at the Fry to assure us that a table was being prepared and that he was asking his kitchen staff to stay extra late especially for us so we can try his food. Which was a good thing, because by the time we got into Han Ba Tang, it was half past midnight...but we still had room in our tummies to eat more.

Han Ba Tang, which aptly means "One More Round" 

So of course we ate some more. Han Ba Tang is known for its clever modern twists on traditional Korean dishes, like kimchi fries and kalbi tacos. But this is no Asian fusion joint with notions of the exotic served by waiters who don't speak Korean - other than our table, most of the patrons at the bar were fresh-off-the-boat Koreans.

Kimchi fries, topped with bulgogi

Makgoli, another type of Korean liquor, traditionally drunk out of wooden bowls

Seafood stew with ramen noodles, which are apparently the perfect midnight snack

And then by 2AM it was time to head out...and move on to a noraebang, Korean karaoke, where we continued to consume.

Korean karaoke is an essential part of a night out