The new Seoul Food

March 9, 2011
Crunchy, moist and recklessly sauced, Korean fried chicken is what we should think when we hear KFC.
Maybe it will attract more fans now that it’s being made to order in the North York branch of Galleria Supermarket.
A whole chicken costs $19.99 and takes 30 minutes to make.
Recipes: Gamjatang (pork bone soup)and Bibimbap
You can watch as the pieces are coated with a seasoned flour and water mixture and deep-fried for 15 minutes. You can see the gorgeously fried pieces tossed with a spicy sauce made from gochujang (red pepper paste), soy sauce, a sweetener and sesame seeds. The result is full-on spicy but not incendiary. The riot of textures is saucy over crispy over moist.
“If you go to KFC you can get four side dishes,” says Galleria’s executive assistant/coordinator Won Ha, referencing the Colonel’s chain. “In Korea, we offer vinegar-pickled radish.”
Sure enough, the crunch of radish cubes is a cooling, crunchy replacement for slaw or celery sticks with blue cheese dip.
Galleria has proudly branded it’s poultry “Mom’s Chicken” and sells it fried, seasoned or seasoned and spicy.
We can already get Korean fried chicken at the two branches of Ajuker Fried Chicken and the Home of Hot Taste in Thornhill.
But the popular Korean snack food, best washed down with beer or soju, hasn’t taken off here like it has in New York City, where foodies frequent BonChon Chicken and Unidentified Flying Chickens.
Fried chicken is just one highlight of the second branch of Galleria at 865 York Mills Rd. The 40,000-sq.-ft., $7 million store opened in November with 540 parking spaces.
Galleria’s first outpost boasted bilingual staff, product signs and receipts when it opened with a splash in Thornhill in 2003. A third location will open in Mississauga next year.
The North York branch, west of Don Mills Rd. (the entrance is off Upjohn Rd.), expects customers will be 70 per cent Korean, 20 per cent Chinese and 10 per cent “other Canadian.”
You’ll find bilingual self-checkouts (Galleria developed its own software), bilingual signage and impressive prepared food offerings and a café. The store is even rebranding its logo so it’s English only.
On Friday, the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers toured Galleria on a trip that included Longo’s Maple Leaf Square, Summerhill Market and the new Pusateri’s in Bayview Village Shopping Centre.
“It’s a wild store — you’re rocking,” Pete Luckett, the flamboyant entrepreneur behind Pete’s Frootique in Nova Scotia, told Galleria management.
“I always believe in creating a unique experience and separating yourself from what the other guys are doing. Also this will attract a lot of us white folks.”
Across North America, Korean food is picking up fans.
In Toronto, Cookbook Store manager Alison Fryer believes Korean food could be the new Thai food (but hopes it never becomes as ubiquitous as Japanese sushi). She predicts Korean barbecue, rubs, spices and cookbooks “will be everywhere” this year.
“We have such a huge Korean community and Korean food is already a staple in the Toronto food scene,” she observes. “I don’t think it’s a trend or a fad that’s going to go away in a year and a half. We’d never consider Greek food or Indian food that way.”
In the United States, declared Korean food and kimchi (pickled vegetables) to be tied for #17 spot on its list of top 25 trends for 2010. (It also called Korean fried chicken a “phenomenon” that’s “giving KFC a run for its money.”)
Two names creating Korean food buzz are Korean-American chef David Chang of the Momofuku empire in New York, and Kogi BBQ, a fleet of five Korean fusion taco trucks from California run by a Filipino-American married to a Korean.
Toronto’s Korean restaurant scene is clustered in Koreatown on Bloor St. west of Bathurst, and Yonge St. around Finch. Among Koreans, the North York shops are more popular.
“Now that Bloor St. Koreatown is starting to dwindle and more Koreans are opening their stores in North York, the new name for North York Koreatown is North Korea,” says Sam Lee, owner of the new Bi Bim Bap restaurant on Eglinton Ave. W.
Like T&T, the Asian supermarket chain now owned by Loblaw, Galleria has enough prepared food to qualify as a restaurant.
It has hired cooks from Korea and local restaurants to run its buffet, ready-to-eat, made-to-order and side dish areas.
Customers can watch most of the chefs work. In three open rooms at near the café, staff also roast seaweed, roast sesame seeds and press sesame oil, make fish cakes, bake walnut cakes, and produce tofu and soy milk.
Says Ha: “We want to be able to offer the most authentic recipes possible.”
Starting with its house-brand KFC.


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