World food – Korean

Right There Museum Restaurant
472 Stradbrook Ave, 775-5353

(Editor’s Note – Right There Museum is no longer open.)

Flashy presentation and edgy flavours of Japanese and Thai cuisines penetrate deep into Winnipeg’s global food market, while Korean  fare quietly attracts diners with deep devotion. It’s of particular note that the majority of customers in local Korean restaurants are either native Koreans or Winnipeggers who have spent time in the country.

Although this Far East cuisine has yet to reach the recognition of its trendier cousins, it proves as adventurous in flavours. Move over red curry, kimchi is not only fiery but loaded with vitamins, healthy bacteria and fibre. The reddish fermented cabbage—made with a mix of garlic, salt, vinegar, chile peppers, and other spices—is a Korean trademark.

To dine Korean means you’re in for a feast. Signature banchan are complimentary side dishes that run the gamut of flavour. In some instances, the heat of kimchi is served  alongside sour cubes of pickled radish, decadent soy and sesame-soaked black beans and briny seaweed slivers.  In addition to banchan, rice soup is customary. Its porridge-like nature and simple seasoning—similar to Chinese congee—serve to relax and soothe.

Right There Museum Restaurant is the city’s highest profile Korean eatery, located at the bustling Stradbrook and Osborne intersection in the Village. This serene escape possesses fairytale charm: owner Jae-im Kim, cloaked in traditional Korean robe, seems to glide across the floor to greet you. As you take a seat at the oversized, tree-trunk table and chairs, Mrs. Kim, in her twittering soft voice, explains the remedial qualities of Korean food.

Since 2002, Right There has been an unheralded pioneer of healthy eating. Even before the term nutraceutical was coined, Mrs. Kim extolled the antioxidant powers of tea and remedial qualities of ginseng.

Prix fixe menus (with playful titles Satisfied, Happy and Feeling So Good) are the best option for the uninitiated. Feeling So Good starts with rice soup, followed by salad, which during one visit was japchae, a delicate nest of cellophane noodles stir-fried with julienned carrots and mushrooms enveloped in a nutty sesame oil and sweetened soy sauce. The barbeque beef entrée (or choose from pork, octopus or mushrooms) is succulent, full of sweet nectar from the soy sauce, sesame oil and honey marinade. Be prepared for Mrs. Kim to invent or mix-and-match side items: during one visit an innovative fried beef and tofu patty came in place of a kimchi pancake. But a row of simple Korean sushi always rounds out the platter and a scoop of ice cream serves as a light finish.

Ordering à la carte, kimchi pancakes are a must-have. Fire-hued flapjacks are laced with green sprigs of scallion and kimchi leaves. Tear off a corner and dip into a pool of sweetened soy sauce to release the heat. The I (heart) Chicken with Ginseng soup is like wrapping yourself in a blanket and sitting in front of the fireplace. A massive thigh of chicken simmers in a thick sweet stock and falls off the bone once you stir the clay pot. Knotty roots of ginseng bob up and down in the broth, while vegetables swirl around. Spoon in some rice and the bowl becomes a magical potion remedying the slightest headache or most aggravating sinus cold.

Right There is open for lunch Tue-Sat 12 pm-2 pm; dinner Mon-Sat 4 pm-12 am, Sun 5 pm-11pm.

Momo
40-2855 Pembina Hwy, 275-6539

Momo is a Japanese-Korean hybrid tucked in a strip-mall on the edge of Winnipeg. Flip past the sushi offerings to a list of specialties catering to the south end’s growing Korean population. For a starter, rice cakes are uniquely cut into thick, inch-long noodles and bathed in a house sauce of peppers, garlic and vinegar. The glutinous tubes absorb the flavours, bursting with each bite.

A bibimbab, the signature Korean dish, arrives popping in a clay bowl—a heap of rice adorned with ground beef, julienned cucumber, carrots and mushrooms topped with a sunny side-up fried egg. Add a few squirts of house sauce, toss with chopsticks and cozy up to this nourishing bowl.

Spicy crab is the most daring dish on the menu. The crustacean is served raw, lathered in a garnet-hued chile sauce. Diners use their teeth to crack the shell, sucking out the sinewy muscles. The fire of the house-made hot sauce immediately engulfs the saltwater nuance of the crab.

Momo is open Mon-Sat 11:30 am-9:30 pm.

Nou Eul Tor
726 Sargent Ave, 779-1855

Over two years ago, Nou Eul Tor brought Korean to the world food emporium of the West End. The restaurant oozes genuine charm, mostly because of the new immigrant couple that pour their heart into running the joint. Communication requires a bit more patience at this little gem—the owners’ English is limited, and like the restaurant name, menu items are hard to pronounce.

Here, diners can indulge in the fun interactive Korean barbeque experience using a tabletop electric grill. Samgyopsal, a heaping platter of pork belly strips, is tossed on the grill with sesame oil, garlic and scallions. Similar to the lettuce wrap in Thai cuisine, place the cooked pork in the accompanying leafy green, add whatever banchan is served, roll and chomp down for a tidal wave of flavour.

A perfect accompaniment is haemul gun dumplings. These verdant bonbon-style pockets have a thin spinach rice wrapper, which when pan-fried, break open to reveal mild seafood and vegetable stuffing. Complete the meal with a blast of Korean heat found in the spicy tofu stew (sundubu-jigae). This hot pot is a kimchi stock, boiling over with silky curds of tofu, egg swirls and cabbage. Nuggets of seafood—clams, shrimp and squid rings—are hidden throughout the fiery broth, infusing a subtle flavour of the sea.

Nou Eul Tor is open Wed-Mon 5 pm-9:30 pm. Closed Tue.