My search for delicious chamchi (tuna) kimbap in Toronto is over!
I love Korean food – okay, I simply love food but while living in Korea, I truly fell in love with Korean food – except bondaegi (번데기, roasted silkworm larvae) which tastes and smells gross. But all in all, with only one dish – which is really a snack – falling into my yuck-it’s-gross category, I had plenty of delicious Korean food to eat while I lived there.
One Korean dish that I love is chamchi kimbap (참치 김밥, tuna filled rice & veggie rolls wrapped in laver/seaweed). It’s the perfect lunch or after clubbing snack. While not my favourite Korean dish – doenjangjiggae (된장 찌개, spicy soybean paste stew) is – chamchi kimbap would be in my top ten simply because it’s delicious, versatile, convenient, and perfect for picnics. It’s like the Korean version of a sandwich in a lot of ways.
You see, my first year in Korea I lived in Ulsan and my friends and I would often go dancing at a small club called S2. In Korea, clubs are open much later than in Canada. We all loved dancing so would generally dance until it closed around 5am. Now I’m not much of a drinker and don’t usually drink and dance as it throws off my rhythm so I didn’t need to eat haejangguk (해장국, hangover soup) afterwards. But five or six hours of dancing would make me hungry so we would often stop at this tiny restaurant (just a little bigger than a street food stall) before heading home. And we always ordered the same thing – chamchi kimbap. Okay, we sometimes ordered other things to go with our chamchi kimbap but we always ordered that. It was simply divine.
When I moved to Seoul it was one of the things I missed the most about Ulsan (other than my friends) and when I went back for a visit, I made sure to stop by. During my two years in Seoul, I ate lots of good kimbap – and some triangle kimbap (삼각김밥) when I was in a hurry – but I never found anything that compared with that one tiny place. Luckily, my local Kimbap Cheonguk (김밥천국, a restaurant chain) made a close second so all wasn’t lost.
But then I moved back to Canada. Toronto has some decent Korean restaurants and some good Korean grocery stores so for the most part it was easy to keep my love affair with Korean food alive. I’ve been slowly learning which restaurants I like, which are too Westernized (I like spicy food and don’t want it dumbed down), which offer interesting fusion dishes, and which I want to avoid. It’s been fun exploring.
I also cook several of my favourite Korean dishes at home and I’m in the process of learning more. It’s one of the many reasons I’m learning Korean – I have three Korean cookbooks that I’m slowly reading and trying out – because it certainly makes cooking slower when I have to look up every third word or so. ^^
One thing that I didn’t find a lot of was good chamchi kimbap. There is no Kimbap Cheonguk – at least not that I can find – and most restaurants don’t carry kimbap. But I kept searching…
And then one of my friends – who also taught in Korea – told me about this little restaurant called Manna in Christie Koreatown, right beside the Baskin Robbins. We arranged to meet up and as soon as I walked in the place – which I first walked past, it’s so tiny – I was smitten. The lady who works there is so friendly, I felt like I was back in Korea. I loved how she remembered my friend. It’s something I miss, being on first name basis with my regular restaurants and shops like I was in Seoul.
We ordered chamchi kimbap and tteokbokki (떡볶이, a popular street food with rice cake, fish cake and cabbage in a spicy sauce) and waited a short time while it was all made up fresh. A short while later, after getting a shiny new point card for the restaurant, we took our order to eat in Christie Pitts (a nearby park) because the weather was so beautiful.
As soon as I opened the bag, I knew it was going to be good and it was. The chamchi kimbap was delicious; it was all I could do not to gobble it down. But I also needed to try the tteokbokki while it was still hot. The tteokbokki was also yummy if a little unusual. I’d never seen that many vegetables in tteokbokki before – I generally only add cabbage to mine and maybe some shredded carrot to my rice cake, fish cake and spicy sauce. But more veggies are never a bad thing.
I’ll definitely be back! Manna has made my short list of favourite Korean restaurants and I can’t wait to try other items from the menu. I have to fill up my point card you know. ^^ Which should be easy as I often walk past it on my way home from work!
Now you know my favourite place to find chamchi (tuna) kimbap in Toronto. Where’s yours?