When you live in Alberta, it is almost near impossible to miss Banff, a small town in Canada’s first National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Snuggled in the Rocky Mountains, the town is a hotspot for skiers and boarders in the winter, hikers and campers in the summers, and a getaway site for families all year round. So it seems unlikely that one of the best Korean meals I’ve ever had is in this small community, a missed opportunity for how many years. It only makes sense that I had to visit Seoul Country Korean Restaurant for both night’s stay during the May long weekend and share it with my readers!
The restaurant itself is located on the second floor of the Sundance Mall on the main street of Banff Avenue. Just be on the lookout for a crowd of people watching staff make fresh chocolate-y goodness at the Fudgery and you’ll know it’s Sundance Mall. Head into the mall entrance towards the back. A short set of stairs to the left will take you to some kickass Korean eats. Reservations are recommended for larger groups or during peak dining hours. Joe and I managed to squeeze in with only a few minutes wait since there were only two of us. Seoul Country is family-owned and operated, and when you’re seated, you know you’re going to be taken care of.
Our first visit is what I’d like to call a major fail. I had been forewarned to not get distracted by the menu. Do not order the appetizers, the small plates, the barbeque (your traditional Korean DIY at the table grill kind of meal), or small stews. My coworker Jessica told me to just not do it. She is, what I’ve dubbed, a Korean cuisine expert. But we didn’t listen. We weren’t at our hungriest (problemo #1), and her recommendation of Korean hot pot was lost on us. That and because the menu didn’t state there were any noodles in the hot pot (problemo #2). No go! We need our noodles if we’re sharing a hot pot! So instead, Joe ordered the “Soon Doo Boo” an individual sized spicy stew filled with a variety of seafood and soft tofu.
Every meal comes with your standard dishes of banchan: kimchi, beansprouts, pickled daikon, and seaweed salad. A bowl of rice for each of us also accompanied. Oh how I wish there were noodles.
I ordered the “Dduk Man-doo Gook” for the evening, a pork dumpling soup with sliced rice cakes. Rice cakes has become my new obsession! Chewy but dense in texture, filling, and willing to mildly absorb whatever marinade or base it’s been cooked in. Delicious. The dumplings were good too and the mixture of eggs and various vegetables made my tummy full. You might be wondering why on earth I ordered something that looked so bland. Interestingly enough, Korean spices gives me heartburn! No other hot sauce does that to me – the classic Vietnamese sriracha, the Chinese sambal, Indian curries, the all-American hot sauce, nope! Just good ol’ Korean gochujang gives my stomach a nice whack. I usually borrow from Joe’s spicy soup bases or throw in the kimchi to ease my way in.
The food on our first night at Seoul Country Korean Restaurant was a success. A good meal, nice and warm on a gloomy rainy day with quick service. As we were sitting there winding down, I noticed tables next to us had all gotten the recommended hot pot. Oh how I wish they came with noodles. Did I mention that already? Both Joe and I love soup with noodles and anything but is just not the same. So you can imagine my face when I saw one lady scoop out a strands and strands of noodles from the communal hot pot. WHAT ON EARTH?! The menu did NOT state there were noodles. Shame on me for not even asking our server! Apparently they all do. So you know what happens next.
No, we didn’t eat more. But we did come back the next evening. We had spent the day hiking, eating, napping, hotspring’ing and ready to eat! One big hot pot please! With noodles. We ordered the “Bul-yang-nak Jun-gol”, a combination of beef slices, beef tripe, octopus, tofu, and vegetables in a big hot pot, enough to feed the both of us. We were forewarned about the heat (both for taste and touch!) by our server, yet thankfully the spices were left in globular format for us to scoop out.
We ended up re-adding the spices throughout the meal, more so for Joe since he can withstand the spiciness. I’ll let you know that if you eat the pot as is, it’s spicy. Really spicy. By taking some of the paste out though, the broth wasn’t as flavorful, which means that the globular red paste is more than just heat! It’s flavor! It ended up working well that we started with only half the spice. I took my share of goodies and cautiously added more paste in my own bowl as the meal progressed.
Here’s what the soup looks like with half of the spice mixed in. Just imagine a bloodshot red soup base and that’s what the latter half of the meal looked like for Joe. Hot hot! A large portion of wheat flour noodles were in the pot, enough for both Joe and I to ignore our bowls of rice that accompanied with the banchan. I was pretty impressed that we managed to finish the whole pot though, scraps and all, with even an extra order of beansprouts and seaweed. Yuuuumm-my! One of the best Korean meals I’ve ever had. And for $40 a pot, it was perfect. I’d take this over a steak any day.
If you’re visiting Banff in the winter or if it’s a particularly gloomy weekend like it was for ours, make sure you check out Seoul Country! And the lesson here is to focus. FOCUS. Order the hot pot. It has noodles. Order extra beansprouts and seaweed salad to cut the heat. Thank me later!Seoul Country Korean Restaurant
215 Banff Ave (Banff)