It seems like it was only yesterday that Joe and I were roaming around the small streets of Seoul, eyeing up street vendors and drooling over Korean food. Ever since last year’s trip, Korean food for us hasn’t been quite the same, but I’m happy to say that Edmonton’s newest restaurant, Nongbu Korean Eatery hit the spot.
Bringing Korean food and culture to the Old Strathcona neighborhood, the eatery is right on 104 Street (Calgary Trail) and 81st Avenue and a prime location for some quick bites (with a beer or soju, of course!) or plates to share amongst a group of friends. Last week a group of us went out to try the new eats. Two floors provide ample seating and features a projection of old-school Korean movies — there’s no K-pop here! A roasted corn tea is served upon seating, something I’ve never tasted before and absolutely delicious.
The menu is on the smaller side and plates are ideal for sharing. Snacks and street eats are definitely a highlight and the ssam (lettuce wraps) offers a more filling meal. The BinDaeDduk was crisp and rich in protein, a mungbean pancake with vegetables and kimchi. I grew up with mungbeans (think Vietnamese crepes & desserts), so the texture wasn’t an issue for me. I remember eating one twice the size of my face in one of Seoul’s biggest food markets, Gwangjang and the dish is on par, albeit less greasy (not a bad thing). The kimchi in the pancake was quite mild, perfect for those who can only take small hits of fermentation at a time.
The gemma rolls were unique, something I’ve never had before! A handmade eggroll filled with ground beef and vegetables and deep fried, a sweet glaze to balance flavours.
Kimbap was one of my all time favourite street eats in Korea! You could grab this almost everywhere you went for a quick, yet filling bite. Absolutely perfect, the Korean “sushi” is light on the palate and crisp pickled vegetables give it the perfect crunch. Unlike Japanese sushi rice, the Korean variety usually uses sesame oil instead of vinegar. Instead of ordering the plate (5 for $7.50), you can also add one roll to any snack for $1.25. I don’t know of any Korean restaurants in town that sell kimbap. They don’t nickname it “drug kimbap” for nothing!
The table’s favourite for the night? The ddukbbokki, chewy rice cakes made fresh and delivered daily, and made in a variety of ways – spicy, “royal”, and fried. The spicy ddukbbokki had a nice hit of gochujang (enough for most diners I think!), although nowhere near what’s traditional in Korea (sooooo spicy I cried!).
The “Royal” had beef and vegetables in a sweet and savory sauce, perfect for those who can’t take any heat. My personal favourite was the fried ddukbbokki. You get the best of both worlds: the chewy ricecake texture plus a crispy exterior for the perfect bite. Pair that with a sweet and spicy sauce (love the combination of sweet and spicy!), and you have a winning dish. Beware though, once Nongbu runs out of fresh rice cakes, that’s it! We ended up ordering two plates of the fried variety that night, super addicting.
Another menu item that I’ve only seen in Korea: kalguksu, fresh hand-cut noodles. In fact, there’s a whole alley full of shops that offer kalguksu in Namdaemun Market (appropriately named Kalguksu Alley). These were legit! Definitely brought me back to our trip last fall. The noodles had a great bite to them, and cut thickly enough to withstand a flavourful broth. We ordered both the Mussel (seafood soup with mussels and vegetables) and DwenJang variety (Korean bean paste and pork soup topped with ground pork and zucchini). I preferred the heartier DwenJang, richer in flavour from the Korean bean paste. Enoki mushrooms swapped out zucchini for that night.
All ssam dishes come with rice, soup (same broth as the DwenJang Kalguksu), and banchan (small side dishes, including kimchi, pickled radishes and vegetables). Nongbu was sold out of Bo Ssam, the traditional slow braised pork shoulder lettuce wraps and so we ended up ordering the DdukGalBi Ssam, a dish that owner John claimed as one of Korea’s newest food trend. When the ribeye was served, I was a little confused as the description said there was dduk patties alongside. Nobody else seemed to be concerned, but I’m all about the fresh rice cakes. Where are they?! Making a bite to eat with the accompanying lettuce (romaine and butter lettuce), rice, spicy savory sauce, and tender well-marinated meat, I noticed something chewy in texture. Ooooohhh! The rice cake is actually inside the ribeye! That’s crazy talk. So yummy!
Ice cream bars make up the dessert menu: the Melona bar or the Pig Bar. I’ve seen the popular Melona bars in Asian grocery stores as well as Superstore, so I opted to try the Pig Bar instead. Describing it as the Korean “Neapolitan” popsicle is dead on – a strawberry centre with a vanilla ice cream layer and covered in chocolate with chocolate cookie nibs. Not overly sweet and a perfect ending to the night!
Service was excellent despite it being their first Saturday night and the busiest they’ve had to boot, a true test of their kitchen. The restaurant was packed throughout the night, a great vibe from the Old Strathcona community, family, and friends. Prices were fair, running ~$20 per person for a full meal. It’s surprising how much the rice cakes and kimbap can fill you up! Loved the little touches like the cute parting candies and the local artwork in the washrooms; the woodwork throughout the space and the bar; the traditional kimchi pots at the entrance (there’s no kimchi, we checked!).
Super happy to welcome Nongbu Korean Eatery to the growing food scene in Edmonton! I was expecting another traditional Korean restaurant but to have a place serving up street-style Korean food is even better. The menu will continue to change as the restaurant settles in, although size of the menu will remain the same to ensure a great dining experience. Definitely a must visit – get the fried ddukbbokki and kimbap to start, a kalguksu dish, and a ssam to share! Looking forward to another visit and menu changes to see what else they have to offer! Perhaps other Korean streetfood favourites like odeng or fishcake skewers? Sundae, their version of blood sausages? Oh, oh, oh, how about patbingsu, the best shaved ice dessert in the world! I’m so excited. Can you tell? Congratulations on opening Nongbu!Nongbu Korean Eatery
8115 104 St