Review: Kimchi and Karaoke


Kimchi and Karaoke was a Korean food and culture event that I recently attended run by a new venture called The Kulture Klub. Their event idea revolves around allowing the participants to explore a new culture through food, and in this case, the culture was Korean culture. This concept makes sense in Toronto as it is one of most multicultural cities in the world and pretty much every culture is reflected here. Yet how well do we know some of our neighbours or their culture? The Kulture Klub’s events allow us to explore new cultures while never leaving the comfort of our familar city.

But it’s not just about learning about a different culture, it’s also about learning about the food and becoming more comfortable with it. Ever walked into an ethnic restaurant and stared at the menu wondering what to order? Attending one of these events can help you become more familiar with different foods. Plus, it’s social! You’ll be at a table with other curious foodies and culture lovers so there will be fun & interesting people to meet as well.

Unfortunately I was still recovering from the flu the night of the event so I couldn’t participate in the karaoke afterwards but I’m sure it was as much fun as the dinner. So my review is simply of the dinner portion of the event.

So what happened at Kimchi and Karaoke?

The participants – let’s call us the cultural tourists – arrived at Arisu (the Korean restaurant that was the venue for Kimchi and Karaoke, fantastic restaurant by the way) eager to learn about Korean culture and Korean food. We were all given name tags, not with our real names but with a Korean name (and its meaning). My name tag said “Min” which means “clever”. I liked it (hey, being clever is good). Karen had also arranged for a “cultural ambassador” for the evening – Korean-Canadian chef, John Lee.

There were three tables of participants – 18 in total I believe (plus Karen and John) and part of the fun was chatting with the other ladies at my table. I was super excited to hear that one of the lovely ladies at my table found out about the event via my blog (yay! people read me). One thing did surprise me though – although I’m not sure why – all of the participants were women. No guy foodies in attendance.

But it was time to start and after our friendly waiter took our drink orders – green tea for me – John (who is a great speaker with just the right amount of humour) started to tell us about Korea and Korean history. Well, the Cole’s Notes version anyways. He also talked a little about the food, however I was expecting more information on the food and eating/drinking etiquette. In fact, etiquette was only touched on briefly at the end when a question was asked – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

What Korean food were we introduced to?

Our first dish, gujeolpan
I’ll be the first to admit, my experience with formal Korean dining is limited but Arisu is a great place to experience it in Toronto. I have lots of experience with Korean food and informal dining of course, but our first dish was new to me (although I’d seen pictures of it before). It was gujeolpan (구절판) which is slices of daikon (pickled radish) with small portions of what is usually nine different veggies but was seven veggies in this case – gu (구) means nine (9) hence the nine veggies. It was delicious nonetheless. While I knew how to eat it – put a small portion of each veggie on a slice of daikon and eat it like a wrap or Korean taco – I’d never tried this particular dish before. It was delicious and was served like an appetizer to the meal. I was always under the impression that this was Korean court food but we were told it was street food (I never saw it in Korea) which makes me wonder if this was suppose to be pajeon (파전), Korean pancake.

The next dish we sampled was japchae (잡채) which is sweet potato noodles with veggies (and sometimes beef). Now this is a dish I’m very familiar with and one that is super common to find either in Korea or in Korean restaurants in Toronto. You can find japchae as either an appetizer or a main dish. It’s a delicious and a favourite dish of many people.

The delicious, melt-in-your-mouth galbi (and our banchan)
Our third dish was galbi (갈비) with ssam (쌈) and banchan (반찬). Galbi is barbecued beef (well, technically it’s BBQ meat and soogalbi (소갈비) is BBQ beef but galbi is commonly used to refer to beef) and this dish is what many people think of when they think about Korean food. Ssam refers to the lettuce or other leafy veggies used to wrap the meat in and banchan is a blanket term for all of the side dishes that accompany Korean food. This course was definitely a favourite. Plus it was the only one served communal-style which is how most Korean dishes are served in Korea. Sharing is fun!

My bibimbap with gochujang
The fourth dish was bibimbap (비빔밥). Bibimbap is mixed rice with veggies (and sometimes beef) along with gochujang (고추장), a spicy red pepper paste. It’s a great dish for most people as it can be vegetarian or not and you can customize the level of spice in it. This is also another super popular dish, both in Korea and here in Canada.

I love this tea, it’s so refreshing
And our final dish of the night, our dessert, was five flavour berry tea or omija cha (오미자 차). This is a cold tea made from a dried fruit that is known for its five distinct flavours. It’s a great drink to finish a meal or cleanse your palate.

What did I think of the evening?

The food was all delicious, but then I’ve always enjoyed eating at Arisu, and it was fabulous chatting with the lovely ladies at my table. For a new event, it was a fun night and I’m sure the other ladies learned a bit about Korea, Korean history and Korean food. I’d have no problem recommending either the Kimchi and Karaoke event or The Kulture Klub.

What they did well

  • Great venue – Arisu has a pleasant vibe, friendly staff and good food.
  • Great communication leading up to the event.
  • Name tags were a cool touch.
  • The cultural ambassador, John Lee, was very personable and a great speaker.
  • Great overview of Korea and Korean history

What they can improve on

  • Have the cultural ambassador explain each dish as it comes out and how to eat it. This was done a little of course but I think focusing more on the food might be a good angle as many of the ladies at my table were unfamiliar with Korean food and how to eat it.
  • Spend a little more time on modern dining and drinking etiquette. These topics were only briefly covered near the end of the dinner. It’s always interesting to learn how others eat and drink, plus if you ever do business with Koreans it will be very useful.

All in all, it was a fun night. I just wish I had felt better so I could have joined the karaoke portion of the evening. Would you be interested in such an event? What would you like to know about Korea, Korean culture or Korean food?

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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