By CINDY DEACHMAN
All things Korean seem to be catching on in Ottawa. Burgeoning Korean restaurants, for instance, offer good eating — bulgogi (grilled beef) or bibimbap (a rice dish often made with raw egg). What’s the deal? Well, we can think of a couple of reasons. South Korea is definitely on the radar nowadays — last year saw celebrations of two anniversaries that brought South Korea into the limelight: the 50th of our mutual diplomatic relations and the 60th of the Korean Armistice.
Simon Bell, chef at Oz Kafe, has his own theory. Here, in the depths of winter, as in Seoul (although temperatures aren’t nearly as frigid there), we’re craving “hearty, rich, stick-to-your-ribs dishes.” And non-Korean restaurants are reinventing East Asian cuisine. Leading the pack is a pub in the unlikely town of Carp. A decade ago, Sunna Na, co-owner (and pastry chef) of The Swan at Carp, cooked a batch of barbecued pork for her customers. Other restaurants now follow. A new trend? We’d have to say yes. So come on, you Koreanophiles — neophytes and all the rest — get while the gettin’s good!
Vegetarian “Seoul Food”
Who knew tofu could be this meaty? The secret to the dense-inside-crunchy-outside soya cake is dredging in cornstarch before frying. After that, the tofu is fried with cultured mushrooms on a cast-iron platter and brought to your table sizzling, accompanied by sides of kimchi, killer coleslaw, and gochujang, a Korean fermented soybean condiment that’s pungent, spicy, and smoky. Roll up the filling in lettuce leaves, along with more gochujang. $17.
Oz Kafe, 361 Elgin St., 613-234-0907, ozkafe.com
ZenKitchen’s David Loan has been producing kimchi since his restaurant opened in 2009. Executive chef Kyle Mortimer-Proulx now carries the flag, typically making his standard with napa cabbage, black radishes, onions, garlic, and shredded carrots. “I play around with it, though.” he says, using ramps, beets, turnips, even cucumbers, depending on the season. (Apparently in Korea, anything goes.) Salt and gochujang are, of course, necessary. Meanwhile, scallions, ginger, and garlic give it a little zing. Seven days on, the sweet, spicy, and sour batch is roaring to go — Mortimer-Proulx’s kimchi is ready for serving alongside Zen’s raw burrito or as part of a tapas plate. Raw burrito $14; tapas for two $20.
ZenKitchen, 634 Somerset St. W., 613-233-6404, zenkitchen.ca
Korean BBQ Pork in a Bento Box
Sunna Na’s barbecued pork, served in a bento box, is outstanding. Slices are thickly coated with the ubiquitous gochujang. Beautifully steamed rice is served, too, along with crisp spring rolls. Namul is a Korean-style cold marinated dish made with mushrooms, say, or spinach. Na pickles cabbage — her own bright, fresh kimchi — just the way her grandmother did. “Kimchi makes you happy!” she says. No wonder the tradition has lasted thousands of years. $16.95.
The Swan at Carp, 108 Falldown Lane, Carp, 613-839-7926, theswanatcarp.ca