A Seoul food experience downtown

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A Seoul food experience downtownWhen life gets busy in Korea, there’s dosirak.

The Korean lunch boxes, similar to a Japanese bento with all its compartments, serve up comforting staples, including kimchi, dumplings, salad and soup, to keep people going through their full days.

It turns out, though, that dosirak is also fitting when the hankering for takeout brunch hits in St. Catharines.

Just ask Paul Bang, the owner of Korean BBQ Town on Wellington Street downtown. Channelling the food culture of his birth city, Seoul, Korea, Bang sees dosirak as the perfect remedy for a breakfast-lunch hybrid taken to go during a pandemic in the Garden City.

“I’d never planned on doing dosirak before because it’s takeout. I’d always focused on dining in because having a restaurant is all about people gathering,” Bang said. “But the trend is changing to more individual-style (dining).”

Still, when people do want to gather around the table, Korean BBQ Town offers one of the most unique ways in the city to do that: with table-top barbecue.

Think of shared plates — all you can eat meat and vegetables — that diners cook themselves at the table while catching up and connecting with each other over every bite. All of it is served with banchan, those small Korean side dishes that include the essential of any Korean meal, kimchi. While typically made of napa cabbage seasoned with chili pepper, kimchi comes in many forms and Bang highlights its versatility with a handful of varieties, including spicy and non-spicy versions made with daikon radish, at Korean BBQ Town.

Korean table barbecue is the ideal cold weather dining as the chill in the air becomes harder to ignore at this time of year. It’s also one of the most social dining experiences in the city, and after months of people hunkering down to flatten the COVID-19 curve, diners have been seeking Bang’s Korean barbecue for the taste of normalcy it offers them and their social bubbles.

“They’re craving table barbecue and gathering,” Bang said. “They’re eating, they’re cooking, they’re talking because it’s been a long time since they’ve been together.”

Bang, a graduate of Niagara College’s hospitality management program, came to Canada as a young adult in 2005, settling first in Windsor with his sister. The hope was to eventually open a restaurant, so he searched for culinary programs throughout Ontario to prepare for that dream.

He chose Niagara College for its reputation and the prospects in the region when he graduated. When Bang opened Naysa Fusion, Korean BBQ Town’s original incarnation, on St. Paul Street in 2009, he was the first international student to run his own restaurant in the area.

After the lockdown in March, he stuck to offering the essentials: Korean fried chicken, known colloquially as KFC, and kimchi, the latter which he continues to sell by the kilogram at his restaurant and also at the new Bolete market on St. Paul Street. Takeout is still part of his repertoire — and will continue to be as he experiments with dosirak.

But with indoor dining resuming once again, he’s back to offering a full menu, including other Korean flagships such as bibimbap, which is veggies, rice and protein served in a hot stone bowl, beef bulgogi, and chilli jeyuk pork. Tofu features prominently on the menu, too, ensuring room at the table for plant-based eaters.

While diners are undoubtedly grateful to have access to all of Bang’s dishes again, he also isn’t short on gratitude through these uncertain times for restaurateurs.

“Every day I go into the restaurant for work and I say ‘Thanks, God, for the work,’ ” he said. “I’m happy to be serving food and being in the kitchen. There’s not a complaint.”

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