If you're East Asian in any way - Korean, Chinese, Japanese... you've probably heard of Dae Jang Geum. Dae Jang Geum was a Korean TV series based on the only female Royal Physician in Korean history. Because details of her life are vague, the show took a lot of artistic license in its plot, portraying her as a palace chef-turned-doctor caught in scandals of hidden identities and plans to overthrow the emperor. The show caught Asia by storm and for a while everyone was interested in Korea, Korean history, and Korean food. They even built a Dae Jang Geum theme park (pictured) complete with cardboard cutouts of cast members and fake, flimsily-built historical buildings.
But this post is not about that.
On 10th Ave, just behind Community Natural Foods, there is a little Korean strip mall with a Korean grocer, an acupuncturist, a travel agency, and Finn Maids. In the corner spot, there's another Dae Jang Geum - a restaurant clearly trying to ride on the success of the eponymous TV show.
It's the "go to" Korean place for my family, and we decided to take Ezra there for his last night in Calgary to satiate his beef cravings. Some might like the restaurant's comfy set-up, where every seat is a private booth. On the other hand, some might be put off by being sequestered from other diners so you can't ask the waitress to grab you what the next table over is having, or worse yet, see if the waitress is coming in the first place! Korean cuisine newbies might also be put-off by the menu, which is riddled with Engrish, like "deep fried dumpings", and has a Korean-only "golf menu". They're also not picky about which language they screw up, referring to "appertizers" as "牙胃前萊"...I guess the fact that they even have Chinese on the menu is something to applaud. Not to worry though, the menu is full of photos and each item is coded, so you don't have to embarrass yourself trying to pronounce words like "bulgogi" or "bibimbap", but be warned that most of the waitresses speak very limited English.
It's weird because in our household, our dinner table would usually be set with different kinds of meat - something reddish (beef or pork), poultry, and fish and/or seafood (and my mom wonders why we always have leftovers?) But at Dae Jang Geum, all thoughts of variety are thrown out the window in favour of one thing - "Big Kal Bi", or marinated short ribs. (It's actually "bul kal bi" in Korean, but I swear it says "big kal bi" on the menu.) Tonight was no exception. My mother, who occasionally has issues with portion control, decided to get three orders between the six of us, which meant two short ribs each.
But before that, there was banchan. I first learned the word from Elyse Sewell (of ANTM fame) and thought it meant "appetizers", but my real Korean friend Jun set the record straight and told me that it means "side dishes". Whatevs, I'm still calling this photo "Kimchi (because it's in the foreground) and Banchan (because the other "side dishes" are in the background)
The banchan was pretty standard - there was kimchi, bean sprouts, pickled shredded daikon and spicy pickled daikon. Usually I'm a little averse to kimchi because I find it a little too spicy, but I was ok with this one.
Knowing that we're about to embark on a meat fest, the Big Kal Bi comes with a nice green salad. Though it might just look like a pile of lettuce, it's actually got thin strips of green onion that give a bit of a bite, and is dressed with a sweet/savoury miso/ginger dressing.
Strangely enough, when faced with a pile of meat, my siblings like to fight for the vegetables. My sister tries to call dibs on every mushroom that finds its way on the grill while I'm content dipping my meat in the miso paste and wrapping it in a lettuce leaf instead of digging into the rice (though the metal bowls with covers are cute).
Think that's a lot of food? In addition to the Big Kal Bi, we also ordered tons of sides. Though we "try" it almost every time we go, my mom tried to get us to "try" the seafood pancake (pajeon) again, but that was vetoed in favour of two (!) orders of deep fried "dumpings"
I do love crispy things, but was a little taken aback when I realized the dumplings tasted they were filled with... tofu? No one told me they were going to be vegetarian! Not that I don't love vegetarian food, but I thought they could've done a better job masking the soy taste, and making the filling look less... grey.
We also ordered not one, but two soups. One was a spicy kimchi noodle soup, while the other was a "not so spicy" tofu and miso soup. I've never pegged Ezra as a spicy food person, given his dislike of Indian and Mexican foods, but here he is, slurping away at his dark red soup:
Every time we order the "not so spicy" soup, we always have a moment of regret because it's not not spicy. I tried to warn my mom, but she wouldn't hear of it and turned to the waitress for help.
"This soup isn't spicy," the waitress explained. "This other one has a chili symbol beside it on the menu; it's spicy. This one doesn't."
Please look at those flecks of chili in the soup and tell me that it's not spicy. After this photo was taken I actually found a slice of jalapeno floating around in there. No joke. I was ok eating the tofu and the bits of seafood, zucchini, and daikon, but could barely bring myself to slurp up the spicy broth. If you're spice averse, don't be tricked by the miso/bean paste (I don't remember what it's called on the menu) soup! I think there's a beef soup on there and a dumpling soup that are actually mild.
Despite these minor quibbles, the meal was delicious overall and the waitresses were great about switching the grill so that it (and our meat) wouldn't get covered in charcoal. We ended up with *tons* of leftovers. We cooked everything up on the grill before packing it into styrofoam boxes, including the bones, which my mom used to make soup the next day. Dessert came with our meal, and it was a cold, sweet, rice-based syrup. After finishing our bowls of this surprisingly refreshing dessert, we packed everything up and headed home.
Dae Jang Geum
1324 10 Ave SW