As some of you may know, elsewhere on this board, I have bemoaned the absence of authentic bibimbap in Korean restaurants here. I am happy to report that a truly authentic bibimbap is being served right now as a spring time special at the beloved Wonjo (aka Korean Traditional Restaurant) on Yonge Street. It is not on the regular menu and only advertised on the wall (in Korean) and in local newspapers -- it's advertised as "hyunmi bap" and "san chae bibimbap" -- literally, this translates as "brown rice" and "mountain vegetable bibimbap". You get a choice of having the bibimbap on brown rice.
What makes this special and authentic are the toppings: in this case, dandelion, fernbrake (kosari), chinamul (sorry, don't know the english word for this), sannamul (don't know this one in English either), along with the more familiar kongnamul (soy bean sprout), spinach, carrots, ground beef, egg....I think there were a few other toppings but these are what I recall. Carrots, imho, are not authentic, but they do add nice colour here, and is used sparingly. The dandelion, fernbrake and chinamul are the greens that are not normally found on restaurant bibimbaps and indeed, fernbrake is the hard-to-find fern that are found only in the springtime and in the wild (ok, hard to find in Korea, plentiful in Canada, but illegal to pick here in the parks/conservation lands up north) -- the fernbrake is timeconsuming to pick and must be dried then reconstituted for the bibimbap dish so no wonder most restos do not include this, as all this is expensive ! This dish at Wonjo is only $10, a real steal in my books -- trust me, I've picked fernbrake for years (dragged by various non-law-abiding Korean elders on our drives up north) and it's no fun task -- and if I were selling my handpicked fernbrake on top of rice, I'd be charging a lot more than 10 bucks!
Which brings me to another point: as we feasted wordlessly, hardly coming up for air, we casually asked where the owner was so that we could complement her on this new menu item. The waitress said that she was up north picking ferns as the bibimbap special was selling really well and they were running out of ingredients! We were amazed! If any of you have picked fernbrake and other wild ferns, (or just know of mothers who do) you'd know how jealously hand-harvested greens are guarded and how sparingly they are used (only for special occasions!) So it's truly amazing how generous they are with these ingredients on the bibimbap. The waitress also mentioned that all the side dishes (kimchi, etc) were house-made, with cabbage/radish/veggies that were mostly home-grown by the restaurant owner.
The bibimbap is served in a stone bowl and the rice is brown rice mixed with some black rice and beans. Hot sauce on the side, a side of radish soup and seven more side banchans. The radish soup is quite bland, but soothing after mouthfuls of the fiery bibimbap (heat you can control by the amount of hot sauce) - btw, I like putting in a couple of spoons of soup to the bibimbap to aid in mixing the dry ingredients. personally, I don't like fried egg sunnyside up and the waitress was kind enough to do an overeasy one for me. Very accommodating, attentive staff, too!
This is the closest thing to the home-style and authentic bibimbap I would get at home and for those of you that are not able to get it at home, I'd highly recommend a visit to Wonjo. This is the real thing.
Korean Traditional Restaurant - 6016 Yonge St., North York
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