BUK CHANG DONG SOON TO FU (691 Bloor West, at Clinton, 416-537-0972) One of many informal fast-food eateries along the Koreatown strip, this casual spot specializes in soon -- fiery soup thick with tofu, seafood and beef -- served with kimchee and other incendiary condiments. Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of hot water. Open Monday to Saturday 11 am to 10:30 pm, Sunday noon to 9:30 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NN
though korean spreads are mostly vegetable, red meat is given primary importance. So much so that chicken and pork -- the white meats -- are considered as vegetarian as fish.The Koreatown strip along Bloor West is home to a growing number of fast Seoul food spots that specialize in stripped-down versions of the multi-course menus offered at far fancier joints in the nabe. One of the newest -- if you can read Korean characters, the sign says "Buk Chang Dong Soon To Fu" -- is also the most unique.
All told, there are a total of six dishes on offer, and five of them are variations on a theme called "soon," a soupy tofu stew served over oven-baked rice: Combination, Seafood, Kimchee, Dumpling and Soybean (all $5.95).
The culinary ceremony begins with small plates of traditional anju appetizers piled with fiery kimchee and raw scallions, vinegary wakame mixed with near-translucent onion and carrot, and crunchy mung bean sprouts.
Now thirsty, we ask for tea (no go) and are served glasses of hot water (free) instead. The tofu stews arrive thick with silky bean curd but thin on New Zealand mussels (one), unshelled shrimp (two) and some wayward pork, all in a pungent red-pepper sauce flecked with green onion and stirred with raw egg.
Next, mock-rock casseroles full of sticky short-grain rice topped with Chinese dates show up in a wooden frame. Once the rice has been scooped into Melmac bowls, more hot water gets poured over the crunchy bits of rice still stuck to the casserole, creating an after-dinner drink that tastes like burnt water.
Imagining it beforehand to be like a Korean version of sake, we attempt to finish with a bottle of Jinro Chamjinisulro soju ($15, 375 ml), a grain spirit rotgut that's been likened to low-proof eastern European vodka with a smoky afterburn. One sip suffices: this stuff could clean paint brushes.