Feed your Seoul in this west-end Bloor Street neighbourhood.
When my mom first moved to Toronto from Seoul in her early 20s, she did what I imagine a lot of newcomers do: settle in a place that felt familiar and safe. For her, that was Koreatown. I can’t imagine what the Bloor Street West and Christie Street area was like in the 1970s, but to this day when I walk around the neighbourhood, I feel like I’m in another city. From the hangul signs to the kitschy shops, it’s hard not to.
But what makes this part of the city stand out the most are its smells and tastes. As soon as you exit Christie subway station, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, wondering where to go first to experience the best food Koreatown has to offer. Here are six must-try dishes to get you started!
Must-try #1 and #2: Bulgogi and galbi
Growing up eating Korean food at home and at my grandmother’s, the first thing I think of is kimchi—the national dish of South Korea. A staple side dish of fermented cabbage or radish (which is my favourite form), it WILL be found in every Korean restaurant, served as one of several complimentary dishes known collectively as banchan.
A close second is galbi. These short ribs marinated in a sweet and savoury sauce are expensive, but worth the cost. It’s fun to grill your own at spots like Korean Village (628 Bloor St. W.).
If you’re looking for another beef dish to try, bulgogi is a popular choice. Translated as “fire meat,” it’s meant to be cooked over a charcoal fire—perhaps at Mapo Korean BBQ (708 Bloor St. W.). Also marinated, this thinly sliced meat can be eaten on a bed of rice or wrapped in a lettuce leaf.
Must-try #3: Bibimbap
Bibimbap is often plastered on posters to entice hungry passersby inside. Essentially the poké bowl of Korea, it’s a colourful rice dish topped with sautéed vegetables, egg and meat. While the experience of Korean BBQ is fun for Instagram stories, a shot of this vibrant bowl is made for the grid!
Once shot, don’t forget to mix it all together before eating—it’s part of the ritual. In case you needed more reason to try this hearty meal, CNN Travel readers have voted it one of the world’s most delicious foods. Try it at the cheerful mom-and-pop Sunrise House (661 Bloor St. W.). If you’re up to more, look no further than the pork-bone stew.
Must-try #4: Sundubu jjigae
Speaking of stew, something I recently tried was sundubu-jjigae, also known as “soon tofu,” a soft tofu stew—at Tofu Village (681 Bloor St. W.). Comfort served in a stone bowl, get it if you want to warm up, or feel loved from the inside out. Although tofu is the star, it’s also filled with rice, banchan, meat and seafood. Traditionally cooked right in its serving vessel, it is delivered vigorously bubbling, so be forewarned! You can also find it at Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu (691 Bloor St. W.).
Must-try #5: Dukbokki
If asked what my absolute favourite Korean dish is, I’d be hard-pressed to pick between galbi and dukbokki . The latter is a rice cake (think udon noodles, but thicker, stubbier and deliciously chewier) doused in spicy sauce and surrounded by vegetables and fish cake.
A great substitute to noodles or fried rice, dukbokki is something I’ve never really encountered on other menus. I prefer it at The Owl Boo Ungee (700 Bloor St. W.), because it’s where my family meets for food in the city and it’s also not as saucy there as it is anywhere else.
Must-try #6: Hodo Kwaja
Your final must-have Koreatown dish is, of course, a dessert. Also ingrained in my childhood memories are trips to Hodo Kwaja (656 Bloor St. W.), named after the walnut cakes you can watch being made through the window. What’s inside? Mashed potato with walnuts or almonds, or red bean with walnuts. The bakery is also known for its pancakes.
Getting to Koreatown
Take the Line 2 Bloor-Danforth subway to Christie station.