A little adventure at Strathfield's Koreatown on The Boulevarde.
My lovely friend Lyn was in town so Lorrie and I whisked her along for a quick visit around The Boulevarde at Strathfield to investigate the Korean food scene. K town satellites are scattered in a few places around a city as large as Sydney. If you're downtown, Pitt Street is where your K nexus is located.
We decided to drive out west to Strathfield, thirty minutes west of the city. There's also a train which will put you out in the heart of all the action. We were only going to check out the one area on The Boulevarde between Albert Road and Redmyre Road although Korean food clusters are scattered all around the surrounding western suburbs.
First stop was The Mandoo. For me, some food standards can be measured by a dumpling and a noodle. At 11 am, the small space that's The Mandoo was starting to fill. We were cheerily ushered to a corner table, positioned right where an elderly aunty was hand wrapping dumplings at the speed of light. Perfect!
Familiar to food comas, we had agreed solemnly amongst ourselves that we would eat selectively to be able to taste a wider variety of items. So we started off with just one round of kimchi and pork dumplings, some pork bao dumplings and a bowl of cold kimchi soup, all to share. Our orders arrived in shiny stainless bowls and we got started quickly. The kimchi and pork dumplings at The Mandoo (mandoo means dumpling in Korean) are flawless. Being more accustomed to Japanese gyoza and Chinese dumplings, these are a departure; about the size of a small mandarin orange, the dumplings are encased in a skin that's thin and smooth, not chewy. The kimchi and pork filling was a mix of sweet and sour, hot and spicy, crunchy and oh-so-yummy. Accompanying pickled diakon and soy balanced flavours perfectly.
The cold kimchi soup is traditionally served in the winter, believed to act as a balancing of outside and internal temperatures.
The soup arrived icy cold, served by young G, smiling and efficient. A mound of thin vermicelli noodles topped with kimchi, egg, cucumber and black sesame seeds produce taste sensations of cold, spicy, sweet, vinegary, and sour, together with perfect chewy thin noodles.
I'd like to just sit here and repeat this meal, it is so wondrous and good, but our other stops beckon so we pay up, thank our lovely hosts and move on.
Haejunggook is hangover food, what you eat with drinks, and especially after lots of drinks. We march determinedly into Sydney Haejunggook to soak up the experience, despite the lack of alcohol in our day (so far).
Obviously not strict in observation, as at midday the table next to us had three elderly beauties out for lunch, I suspect not nursing any sort of hangover just like us.
A large seafood frittata-style pancake loaded with chives, mussels, fish and prawn meat was delicious and more-ish, chewy and flavourful, with crispy edges. We bravely ordered sundae, but once the robust blood and potato noodle sausages arrived, we found the texture and taste a little too challenging.
We had to have a hotpot, the whole hangover cure experience.... I ordered the pork and rice cake hot pot for us but told our helpful waitress to hold on the pork intestines. Glancing at our unfinished plate of sundae, she nodded sympathetically.
The hotpot was a treat, the banchan (or small accompanying plates) dishes taking up the space of our double table very quickly: bap (cooked rice), gochujang (fermented red chilli paste), kimchi (fermented veggies), vermecelli noodles, green chillies and flavoured salt. The thick and chewy tubular rice cakes (teokbokki) and the fatty pork slices were delicious contrasting textures to the bubbling sourish soup.
The atmosphere here is boisterous, bustling and friendly, beerhall like. Noisy groups have gathered, but at lunchtime, there are also single diners, busily slurping from large bowls during a work lunch break, and a more elegant variety of customer, like our neighbouring table of genteel women. (They are obviously not deterred by the atmosphere.)
Our final stop for food and drink was LAB Bakery. We needed a caffeine intervention after the double lunch (please don't tell) and this Korean family institution was where we headed to. Husband and wife team Young Oh and Soon Ok with their daughter Sarah have re-launched from a previous incarnation in a smart coffee, bread and pastries spot. Everything here is hand made on the premises.
This is my favourite type of bakery, an easy fusion of European and Korean flavours. Red bean paste filled little cakes, green tea sponges, pizza savouries, hot dogs baked in bread rolls, and of course amongst the tea and coffee offerings, the beloved bingsu. Singaporeans and Malaysians have Cendol, Filipinos have Halo Halo, and for the Koreans, their frozen iced dessert equivalent is Bingsu.
Quickly forgetting our recent two lunches, we order pastries, biscuits, coffees and a small bingsu to share. The red bean cake is much like a mochi; tender, freshly made and melting in the mouth. The coffees arrive disappointingly tepid, but our attention is turned to the dish of bingsu, piled high with soft flakes of frozen ice cream on a bed of caramelized condensed milk, and studded with chunks of chewy rice cake. Lyn suffers brain freeze from diving in too quickly, but otherwise we are all in snowy heaven...
The Tiffany blue chairs out the front, the cute neon sign and the enticing glass cases filled with treats both savoury and sweet together with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee make for a great last dessert stop.
Lorrie, Lyn and I stagger, somewhat in a daze into the grocery store next door for a final foray. A-Tae Korean Supermarket is bustling and packed tight with grocery items, gifts, cosmetics and expensive gift boxes of ginseng to varieties of kimchi in the fridges. Tofu, seaweed sheets, sesame and chilli fermented pastes, and of course the rice cakes......... we were even gifted sachets of collagen and pomegranate drinks. Was the pretty shopkeeper making a not so subtle comment ....?
Such a fun few short hours. Jump on a train and head to Strathfield, or if you're driving, there's loads of parking in the side streets. The streets felt welcoming and friendly-and despite feeling extremely full, we had barely scratched the surface of all things Korean that was on offer to eat on The Boulevarde.
As always, Lorrie has loads of beautiful images from our day out together on her blog.