While not as clearly defined and ‘official’ as Chinatown in Downtown Vancouver, Coquitlam’s Koreatown neighbourhood around North Road and Lougheed Highway has a flavour all its own. Anchoring the neighbourhood (which actually straddles the Coquitlam/Burnaby border) are two Korean supermarkets: Hanahreum Mart or H-Mart on the Coquitlam side, and Hannam Supermarket on the Burnaby side. I visit H-Mart fairly often to pick up Korean prepared meats for Korean dishes I prepare at home like samgyeopsal and galbi, which are pork belly and ‘rib strips’ for the BBQ, respectively.
Having lived in South Korea we enjoy preparing Korean meals sometimes, and finding these specialty cuts at the Korean market is just much easier. We also stock up on kimchi, a type of pickled and fermented spicy cabbage that many are touting as one of the new ‘superfoods’, and dwenjong, a spicy soy-bean paste that is used in lettuce-wrapped BBQ meat dishes. If you don’t wish to prepare the side dishes yourself H-Mart has a section of ready-made dishes that can accompany the relatively easy galbi or smagyeopsal that you have prepared (there are a number of recipes online). You can also find all sorts of radish, seaweed, noodle and pickled dishes to choose from. If you are more interested in a quick snack you can try kimbap which is seaweed wrapped rice, with ham and pickled radish inside – it is sort of like sushi and often eaten as a snack or lunch.
If simply ordering some Korean dishes from a restaurant menu is more your speed, there are plenty of restaurants in Coquitlam’s Koreatown neighbourhood as well. They range from a little more upscale, like Insadong Korean BBQ and Seafood, to a little more casual like a personal favourite of mine, Toe Dam. Insadong is on the northeast corner of Lougheed and North Road while Toe Dam is in the Hanin Mall with H-Mart. Both serve Korean style BBQ that you grill at your table on a small grill embedded in the table top.
Dining at a Korean style BBQ restaurant is an experience. They bring the raw ingredients to you, and they usually start you off, but after that the cooking falls to you. Add the wide variety of side dishes and the individual preparation of each bite and you will truly have tried something new. The wait staff will be happy to help you out if it is your first time and I have found that most friends I have shared this experience with really enjoy it, whether they are from the Lower Mainland or visiting from overseas.
There are other businesses in the Koreatown area as well – car repair, optometrists, nail spas and hair salons – each catering to the local Korean population. I tend to only indulge in the food related businesses like the grocery store, bakery and restaurants as this is where I am most drawn when it comes to trying something new and multicultural. However, I can tell you as a former resident of South Korea, these businesses are all authentic. If you want to experience some Korean culture in the Tri-Cities head over to Koreatown and say annyeong haseyo (hello) to something new.