What About Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu When The Donger Need Food?

When one mentions Korean food in Toronto, Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu is on the top of this list.  Not to be mistaken with Long Duk Dong of Sixteen Candles fame, Buk Chang is a College Street mainstay. It is part of my quest to tackle Korean food this year and having a colleague craving bibimbap in a hot stone bow, it seemed a logical stop.  Luckily, it was just past the lunch hour so we easily secured a table in the back corner and were handed the one page menu.  The decor was rather plain but not uncomfortable. Boasting a menu of 9 items with only 2 of them over $7, I ordered the seafood soon tofu with the hot pot of rice for $8 while she ordered the bibimbap for a little under $10.

One of the things I love about the Korean experience is the banchan, which is an array of side dishes which compliment the main dishes.  These are somewhat open to interpretation but usually include kimchi, steamed vegetables (called namul) and other things like pancakes which can contain any number of ingredients.  In the case of Buk Chang, we were treated to some bean sprouts, kimchi, radish and some Kuromame black beans.  The beans were the best part of the banchan and although the rest of the offerings were good, they were far from mind-blowing.

Banchan
Banchan

 

I’m a little stubborn when I go out and eat in an environment that is somewhat foreign to me.  There have been numerous instances where I have been faced with questions like “Should I eat this hot pepper or is it just garnish?” or “Which sauce goes with which dumpling?”.  Today was no different.  I cautiously spied patrons at other tables for hints on proper conduct although I’m not sure there is a particular science in eating Korean food.  I mean, you don’t have to have a Michelin star to conclude that an shelled egg placed on the table should eventually end up cracked in my soup.  What confused me a little more was the reason why the server poured water in my bowl of purple rice after he scraped most of it into another bowl.  Was it to help out the dishwashers?  To cool the bowl down in case I forget and burn myself?  Was I supposed to do something with it to complete my meal?  In the end, I never got the answer despite watching  an older Korean lady who ordered the same thing as me. She didn’t give the rice bowl a second glance which did nothing to answer my question.

The seafood soon tofu arrived bubbling. I dropped the egg in and watched the protein denature like I  was presenting a grade 8 science project.   The tofu itself was amazing; it’s texture hit that part of my brain that made me fall in love with things like rice pudding and tapioca.  The broth was punchy but delicate. Understanding that this is a restaurant with a significant devotion to tofu, I still found the seafood contribution nothing short of measly.   Two tiny unshelled, head-on shrimp and one mussel were absolutely lost in the big bowl of tofu. I’m not really a fan of rice but I enjoyed a few bites from the bowl of the purple grain that was served with the soup.

Seafood Soon Tofu $7.97
Seafood Soon Tofu (with hot pot rice) $7.97

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a huge fan of bibimbap mainly due to the fact that it’s mostly rice.  That said, if you crisp up some rice against a hot stone bowl and add a fried egg among other things  you can at least peak my interest. It was a decent $10 bowl of rice.  The egg was nicely done and other condiments were used in good proportion.

Bibimbap $9.74
Bibimbap $9.74

My Take

Most white people will confess that their experience with Korean food has been limited to bulgogi beef and bibimbap, a statement which is possibly as stereotypical as the gong which sounded every time Long Duk Dong entered a scene during  Sixteen Candles more than thirty years ago.   Buk Chang’s  focus on soon (soft) tofu opens another page in the Korean cookbook.  Other than the mystery of the water pitcher, this place offers a straight forward experience in a no frills fashion. That said, when I ponder the scant amount of seafood in the soup,  I need to remember that in the end I’m getting a filling meal for about $8 although I think calling it seafood soon tofu is a tad deceiving.

In many good lunches and dinners you only ultimately  remember every perfect ration eaten,  great nosh and  nectarous thrill. Coming here and nibbling inferior kimchi and bland namul prevents me from calling this the best Korean experience I’ve ever had but based on the tofu soup and the bibimbap, I understand why it’s become a staple for many ethnic food enthusiasts in the GTA.

Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Queen West:Banh Mi Boys

In many ways, the Toronto lunch melee has become as competitive as the dinner one.  As opposed to the drawn-out, cocktail promoting, upselling strategies of the evening scene, the lunch philosophy is a bit different…quick, fresh and cheap. There are a few main events on the midday fight card; the burger battle, the ramen rivalry, the sushi skirmish  and the burrito brawl.  I plan to tackle each of these battles separately but first there is a  need to discuss Banh Mi Boys, a popular lunch spot that beats by its own drum, offering real fusion  flavours unique to this Queen West take out joint.   I tried a variety of offerings including the Banh Mi (sandwich), tacos, steamed Bao (buns) and even a few fries.

Must

The Banh Mi sandwich threw me into blissful confusion.  A baguette topped with delicious tofu (yes those words can co-exist) and topped with a signature mix of pickled carrots, cukes and cilantro jilted my gustatory system with an offering of French, Mexican and Asian flavors.  The bread was surprisingly delicious, with a texture competitive with other gourmet sandwich offerings spattered throughout town.  It was comforting yet edgy but quite satisfying and at a decent price point of $5.49.

Tofu Banh Mi Sandwich
Tofu Banh Mi Sandwich

Maybe

Kimchi fries….hmmmm.  An interesting concept providing you like kimchi..and fries.  Supplemented with mayo (maybe a bit too much) and green onions, this $5.99 dish (although it is quite a sizable portion) is a definite deviation from standard poutine offered at almost every food truck, gastropub burger joint within a 15 km radius.  Kimchi is one of those “in moderation” type foods I could only take these fries in a small dose.  The mayo offered a creamy texture and rich flavor but the fact that the  meltiness of the cheese and heat of steaming gravy was missing  left me just a little sad.

Kimchi Fries
Kimchi Fries

The $3.99 taco was also unorthodox, moving away from the traditional mexican corn or wheat shell toward a thicker, stretchier chapati-type cortex surrounding, in this case, a southern type pulled pork filling and topped with the right amount of kimchi, crunchy cabbage and those incredible pickled carrots.

Tacos and Steamed Bun with Jicama Salad
Tacos and Steamed Bun with Jicama Salad

Mundane

Even a decent braised beef cheek and the magical carrot elixir couldn’t save the bao (see above) which tasted as if it might have been steamed a while ago. It lacked the melt-in-your-mouth-wonder-bread-dipped-in-a-bit-of-sugar taste I associate with a perfect steamed bun. Sigh.

My Take

I applaud Banh Mi Boys’ understanding of fusion cuisine to mean more than adding salsa to pizza and calling it Mexican-Italian.  This is one of the more unique lunches you can score along the busy Queen street corridor, mixing flavours and concepts together create a tantalizing smorgasbord of pungent, sweet and savory gusto surrounded by world examples of starchy staples at a decent price.  Currently, Banh Mi Boys stands alone but given it’s apparent success and unique concept,  there will no doubt be other contenders throwing their culinary aprons in the ring attempting to attract those not interested in burritos, burgers or one of the other ubiquitous main events peppering every downtown street corner. I can taste the jalapeno, panko-coated bologna calzones already.

Mulling Moment- Please Comment!

 

Banh Mi Boys on Urbanspoon