If you’ve ever moved far far away from home, you’ll understand the importance of finding culinary comforts while abroad. A few years ago I spent a summer in South Korea. I worked as an English teacher at a camp in Seoul. I had the best time, and if it weren’t for grad school beckoning me home, I would have stayed much longer than just that summer. Eating out was cheaper than buying food and cooking it at home (which I did maybe once in a 6 week period). I consumed more kimchi and bbq pork than I ever expected too (and then downed it all with soju), but I didn’t quite realise how much I missed straight up Western-style carb loading until my friends brought me to eat Dak Galbi. My friend Mike (who somehow ended up with the nickname Peter) ordered for us in Korean so I had no idea what was going on. First, a hot pan on the table was filled with chicken, cabbage and hot sauce and then covered. Not long afterwards the waiter/cook came over and added rice cakes and noddles and mixed that in. A few minutes later he came by and covered this all with… CHEESE!!!!!!!
Seeing this, I was in heaven. My French Canadian brain understood this as “carbs + sauce + chesse = poutine!”. This understanding of the dish was pretty spot on, it was as satisfying as poutine has ever been. Except with poutine, you just use the extra gravy on another dish…If there is leftover hot sauce/curry paste, they fry rice in it. Which just brings the dish over the top (in both flavour explosion and calories consumed). I have never forgotten that meal.
Coming back to Canada, I started my masters in YUL (Montreal) and not YYZ. Montreal has great food, but not a great selection of Korean food. NO ONE offered Dak Galbi. How do I know this? I called every Korean restaurant in downtown Montreal. They said they didn’t have the market for it. I still think they are crazy.
Back in YYZ, I told my friend E about my craving for Dak Galbi. E was the friend who invited me to go to work in Korea with her for the summer, so I was certain that she would know where to go. And indeed she did! Soon after we went to Joon’s (Bloor location) and it’s been our go-to place since. When she asks me if I want to go for Korean, I know she actually means Joon’s. We also like to bring friends who have never been just to see their reactions. Most are skeptical at first, but all are converts to the wonders of Dak Galbi.
And last week we bought a convert (aliceyyz) and another friend (ClemtineDipple!) with us. We ordered the Original Spicy Chicken Dak Galbi with extra rice cakes, noodles, vegetables and cheese. Knowing it would take a while to come, we got an order of vegetable “Joen” (Korean pancake). Joen is a typical appetizer, which you can also get with seafood or kimchi. I wasn’t impressed by the joen – it wasn’t fried enough, was too small and didn’t come with the usual dipping sauce. But that wasn’t what we came for!
The Dak Galbi was, as always, extremely satisfying. Joon’s, as always, was remarkably busy. No one goes for the service or the decor. Everyone is there for the food. It’s a delicious spicy cheesy invasion of your mouth. And who doesn’t want that?!