Cross-posted from Calgary is Awesome.
A couple months ago I posted an Instagram photo of an “authentic” Korean dinner that B. and I were whipping up – tteokbokki and pan-fried tofu with spicy sauce. My friend Terry saw the photo and decided to invite me and a few others to a truly, authentic Korean experience – Han Corea, located on the ground floor of the Calgary Korean Community Centre in the industrial part of Fairview, near Chinook Station.
Han Corea is your stereotypical hole-in-the-wall, with fluorescent lighting, cheap tables and chairs, a small computer in the corner, and a three-man staff that does everything from cooking to serving. Rice, tea and instant coffee are complimentary and self-serve. What made Han Corea so authentic was they didn’t really have an English menu. Our original plan was just to randomly point at things and hope for the best, but Terry invited his aunt, who invited her Korean friend Yuri, who did some translating and also some explanation behind some of the dishes for us. While most Korean restaurants in Calgary specialize in bulgogi, or barbecued meats, here they specialized in different stews, as well as a dish called “Sun Dea”, pork intestines stuffed with clear noodles, pork blood and other ingredients.
After some back and forth with the cooks, we ordered a few dishes and were served an array of banchan while we waited.
There was the usual kimchi (from cabbage and daikon) and sweet daikon pickles, but there were some dishes that we don’t see as often as well – thinly sliced onions pickled in a sweet and vinegary soy sauce, fish cakes (odeng) and little crispy silver fish with sesame and seaweed.
We started with the two soups first – Kimchi Chi Gae ($10.95) and Pork Rice Soup ($10.95).
The kimchi chi gae (kimchi stew) was loaded with vegetables and tofu and was very flavourful, but not too spicy. The pork rice soup was much more milder in flavour, and came with sides of green onion, finely chopped jalapeno, soybean paste and little shrimps so that you can adjust the flavour to your liking. The soup had a creaminess from the collagen released from the pork bones, and had lots of pork er… variety meats in it. I enjoyed it, but it might not be for the squeamish.
For our main courses, we ate everything “ssam” style – wrapped in pieces of butter lettuce with slices of raw garlic, jalapeno peppers and soybean paste. We started with something a little more familiar – LA Galbi ($11.99) or marinated beef short ribs.
The beef short ribs were marinated in a simple soy-based sauce, which really let the flavour of the beef shine through, but I would say I missed the bolder, sweet-and-savoury flavour of beef ribs I’ve had at other Korean restaurants. Still, the beef was moist and tender and I would say this was one of my favourite dishes of the night.
Next we had the O Sam Bulgogi ($14.99), which was a mix of squid and pork in a spicy sauce. I liked the contrast of the chewy squid with the tender morsels of pork, but despite the colour, flavour-wise this dish was a little bit bland to me – I expected more sweetness, more saltiness, more spiciness.
Last, we ordered Pig Skin in Spicy Sauce ($14.99), which had a similar sauce to the O Sam Bulgogi. I’d expected the pig skin to be crispy, but instead it was soft, and a little bit fatty and chewy.
Although we were all quite full, the staff were so impressed that we were eating everything up so they let us try their special, Sun Dea, on the house.
We were originally a little intimidated by this dish because it was pork intestines and pork blood – I’d expected it to be metallic tasting, like liver, but it actually wasn’t at all. The intestine casing was a little chewy, as expected, and the noodles inside gave it a bit of a “meaty” texture. By itself it actually tasted a little bland, but with a sprinkle of the salt that came with it, it was perfect.
We left with full tummies and a little more knowledge of Korean food! While I prefer the bolder flavours of other Korean restaurants around the city, I would go back to Han Corea to try some of their more unique, traditional dishes.