Restaurants with small menus and specialized fare get my motor running. Think Cibo, Farrow, Tres Carnales, Corso, Rge Rd; the days of four-page, laminated menus are (almost) history in Edmonton. Nongbu Korean Eatery in Old Strathcona has joined the ‘small but mighty’ roster offering Korean street eats and comfort food. Seeing “Sorry, sold out!” signs on the door has been frustrating to some, but, it proves that Edmontonians are hungry for interesting, authentic Korean food.
You can’t help but be impacted by the space: stark, cold, industrial and unadorned. Old black-and-white Korean movies are projected on one wall, but for visual stimuli, that’s pretty much it. I hoped the menu, at least, would give me something to get excited about.
I soon realized that I wasn’t as well-versed in Korean food as I thought I was. Almost every item on the menu was new to me. No bulgogi? No bibimbap? What exactly is DdukBbokki, and, how on earth do you pronounce that word? Our server politely and patiently provided answers to our endless questions.
Food-wise, they’re doing things right by having their Kalguksu (noodles) and dduk (rice cakes) made for them by a Korean acquaintance here in Edmonton and all of their banchan (side dishes of pickled vegetables) are made in-house.
I take comfort in knowing that their menu will change according to availability of product and depending on what’s popular on the Korean food front. Maybe I’ll get my bibimbap the next time I visit Nongbu.
Kimbap, according to our server, are also called “drug kimbap” because they’re so addictive. The items consist of rice, julienned asparagus, yellow peppers, carrots, and mushrooms rolled in snappy seaweed, and come with a honey-mustard sesame sauce for dipping. $7.25 for 5
Seafood Pajeon is as ubiquitous to Korea as green onion cakes are to China. The fried pancakes at Nongbu are hefty, packed with tender squid, shrimp and green onions, and, thankfully, not greasy like some I’ve had at other Korean restaurants.
There are three kinds of ssam (lettuce wraps) on offer: ribeye and dduk (rice patties), slow braised pork shoulder, and a tofu and mushroom. The filling is spooned into lettuce leaves, topped with sauce and any of the bancham. We chose the ribeye/dduk ssam. The steak is minced and blended with chopped up dduk, reformed into a patty and grilled. That is a tasty but expensive dish – $17 for one patty, $32 for two.
The pork noodle soup ($12) failed to please. It came to the table lukewarm, the noodles bordered on being gummy, and the pork was dry. Despite its good looks, the dish was a bland in flavour and flat in overall execution.
For drinks, pass on the coke or sprite and order a Korean soda, some soju or a Cass beer instead. Makes sense, you know, when in Korea… (or a place offering authentic Korean food.)
I’m excited that John Anh has opened this eatery, and, despite suffering a couple of bumps on the night I went, I look forward to going back. If you tune into their Facebook page and look at the dishes coming out of that kitchen, it might get your motor running too.
You can listen to my CBC Edmonton AM review with Mark Connolly by clicking here.
Nongbu is located at 8115 – 104 Street, Edmonton.