My Favourite Thing

Daishi’s post about heading back to work was wishful thinking. By the next day Japan was going through rolling blackouts, and there was too much real work to be done for the Namco staff to be messing around at the office. In Monday night he posted this, and has been quiet since:

Due to lack of electricity supplies BNG staff have been told to stay home until things settle down.

It might take some time for us to start operating as usual… http://t.co/RNDELQt

So there’s no Soulcalibur news, but I still wanted to write about something, and I found just the subject: my favourite Korean restaurant, Imonay House. Daishi got to post about all the food he eats, so it’s only fair.

I go there as often as possible, and my last visit was Friday evening. This time I made sure to bring my camera so I could get a few pictures of the place, and my favourite foods.

Imonay House is a tiny place near the edge of Toronto’s Koreatown.  About a year and a half ago they closed down, and I felt a little bad. I’d been there a few times, and it was alright. But I had a regular Korean place further west on Bloor, so I wasn’t missing it. However, my regular place was shut down for not paying their rent, and I was forced to make the rounds, taking in as many of the restaurants in Koreatown as I could. Some were good, some were great, but when I went back to the newly reopened Imonay House, now sporting a yellow sign where the old one had been green, I was instantly charmed.

The new owners, a husband and wife, were extremely friendly. I couldn’t say whether it was because they’d just opened and wanted the business, or they weren’t used to white people coming in to their place, since most of the club kids and students eat at the quicker, more open places down the street. Imonay’s clientele is mostly families and old Korean folk looking for some oldschool food. But after going there a few more times I realized that it’s because they’re just nice people. On my fourth or fifth visit, having come in every week or so, they came over and asked me and my friend our names, and introduced themselves, unprovoked. That’s not something that happens every day.

So, this is Gina.

When she saw me taking pictures of her place she insisted that I take one of her as well, which was a relief because I felt a awkward about telling her I wanted a picture for a tiny blog. She does most of the counter work, running the register and the like, as well as serving. Her husband usually stays in the kitchen, cooking up a storm.

That’s him, reading a paper after the place had closed up for the night.

Gina always knows what we want. After greeting us, and getting us seated, she says, “Large pork bone soup?” And we nod, and she brings us some tea and a pitcher of cold water.

A few minutes later the side dishes arrive. These are complementary, and they rotate regularly, with the only constant being the different kinds of kimchi.

Clockwise from top left: spicy zucchini, tofu in a soy sauce marinade, classic spicy kimchi, spicy daikon (radish) kimchi, sour kimchi, flavoured bean sprouts. Other regular sides include Korean potato salad (they love the stuff, don’t ask me why), pickled daikon, various types of seaweed, some type of nuts in a spicy sauce, various types of preserved and flavoured fish, cold Korean glass noodles, fried eggplant, and tons of other things, all delicious. We normally get 6 or 7 different sides, and it’s just fine to ask for more. Gina will often come by and ask we want more kimchi or whatever.

For anyone who hasn’t tried it, kimchi is the most ubiquitous and identifiable of Korean foods — the earliest records of kimchi are nearly 3000 years old, making the dish older than many countries, and most religions. It’s made from fermented cabbage mixed with various spices (it can get quite hot), vinegar, salt, chili peppers, and whatever else. Many Korean restaurants use their own recipe, so every place you go will have different kimchi. Koreans eat it with every meal, and it’s so standard they use it for topping burgers and pizzas. I’ve used it as part of chicken and salmon salads, and it’s amazing in those. Some people don’t like it at first, which is fine; it’s an acquired taste. But it’s also been recognized as on of the healthiest foods you can eat.

Normal kimchi has a spicy flavour with a slightly sour aftertaste. It doesn’t taste like cabbage at all, and it’s delicious once you get used to eating it.

Next, we get our main course: Korean pork bone soup, or gamjatang.

This stuff is like manna from heaven. Except really spicy. I have eaten tons of pork bone soup in my life, and travelled all over the city to get it. Imonay House has, without any hyperbole on my part, the best pork bone soup I have ever eaten. It is so good.

With our soup comes a big bowl. That’s where the bones go.

Korean pork bone soup is a very old, traditional food that has been exported to wherever Korean ex-pats live. It’s made using the neck or back bones of a pig, which are extremely cheap cuts, since what else are you going to do with them? Because the meat is tough, and a little sparse, the soup is cooked for endless hours, often overnight. The only downside to this method is that restaurants occasionally run out of the stewed meat (especially on cold days, when people want that comforting stew), and they can’t just whip up another batch. After the long hours of cooking, the meat is no longer tough. It’s supple, and comes off the bone with little effort, making it relatively easy to scrape the bones of meat using chopsticks, a spoon, and sometimes a steadying finger.

There are many ways to eat the soup itself. My usual method is to quickly get the meat from the bones, letting the soup itself cool a bit — it’s usually brought to the table still boiling — and then adding the rice, which further thickens the dish and makes the whole thing easy to eat with just a spoon.

By this point I’ve started to cut into the soup, so it’s time to start dumping kimchi in, to make everything even more tasty.

And finally, we’re done. I ask for some extra kimchi while we sit around and talk shit, because it’s cold out, and Imonay has a comforting atmosphere.

I could eat it every day.

And the best part?

That entire meal cost $7 each, no tax. We always leave a huge tip, because it wouldn’t feel right otherwise.

❤ Imonay. If you’re ever in town, check it out. Or ask me and I’ll take you there.

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