Francesca Kim of Sura Korean with a selection of Korean delights
I love Korean food year-round, but fall weather magnifies its hearty, spicy wholesomeness. Sura Korean Restaurant is one of a handful of solid Korean eateries that have opened in Calgary in the last couple of years. It’s a bright, unassuming place with friendly, attentive staff. It’s there that I’ve been indulging my fall fondness for my favourite Asian flavours.
For the uninitiated, Sura’s lunch special ($9.99) is a great first Korean meal. Four options include grilled beef, chicken or seafood as well as kim bap — seaweed-wrapped rice with spinach, finely diced carrot, marinated beef and pickled daikon radish. Generous portions include four side dishes or banchan. I’ve eaten the beef and kim bap meals. Both were big and delicious and beautifully presented on multi-compartmental dishes, the beef dish being a less elaborate version of Korean barbecue or bulgogi.
I also recently tried three lesser-known (outside Korea) old-country classics. My wife and I first ordered two real Korean comfort-food dishes. Jajangmyeon ($10.99) is a popular dish year-round in Korea but is eaten specifically on April 14, known as Black Day, by lovelorn singles. The Sura version consisted of pork and seafood in black bean sauce over a bed of noodles. We also ordered rice cake soup with dumplings ($13.99).
These were served with the above-mentioned side dishes of (mostly) pickled vegetables. These included a plain take on egg salad with crisp cucumber and diced onion; sweet, shredded daikon radish with black sesame seeds; kim chi (fermented cabbage with red pepper); and two tempura-battered seaweed rolls filled with clear noodles, which had a beefy sweetness.
Simple and invitingly presented, the jajangmyeon’s almost-black sauce was mixed with chopped pork, onion and zucchini as well as just a bit of cabbage and a few wee squid pieces. These ingredients all took on the deep colour of the sauce and were poured directly over rubber-band-shaped opaque wheat-flour noodles. Cucumber slices topped the sauce. Korean black bean sauce tastes different from the type usually served on local Chinese dishes. Made from roasted soybeans, it has a slightly bitter nuttiness. The light taste of cucumber married beautifully with the sauce and the noodles were steamy yet firm.
The rice cake soup was hearty and nourishing. Its cloudy, velvety broth swam with beef slices, ribbons of cooked, chopped egg, chopped green onion, clear noodles, diagonally sliced rounds of rice cake and soft, white half-moon dumplings filled with thumb-sized pinches of spicy ground meat. This dish was filling, maybe too glutinous for some, but I loved it.
On a separate visit, we ordered the dinner set ($15.99 per person) from the specials board. It consists of a choice of hot soup with grilled fish and an expanded selection of obligatory side dishes. That night, mackerel was the featured fish. Its skin was scored and darkly crisp. Three fish were served on a bed of lettuce leaves and circled with side dishes.
The mackerel was lovely; moist meat under lightly charred skin. The strong natural flavour of mackerel was great in combination with the various sides, especially the tangy kim chi.
Our soups came with small bowls of white rice. The tofu-based chi gae soup was soft, almost creamy, with a deep-orange, red-pepper-based broth that was spicy in that patented Korean food way — a savoury heat that doesn’t burn. The kim chi soup held two small blocks of firm tofu, rice cake rounds, sliced pork and lots of kim chi. Served in small, dark, thick-rimmed bowls, both soups remained hot and spicy to the last spoonful.
Anytime is a good time to eat Korean, but classic dishes such as these at Sura will suitably comfort and warm your insides as fall approaches.