Korean BBQ withOUT the smell. Or: An evening at Arisu

Everyone I know loves (or at least likes) Korean BBQ. Everyone I know does NOT love the effect the cuisine has on your person. When every table has its own table-top grill, it’s understandable that the resulting effect is a layer of smoke almost as dense as the one caused by an Indonesian forest fire and a smoky smell that will cling on to your hair and clothing more strongly than your college ex-girlfriend.

Oh, it's you again. -- from mashable.com

Oh, it’s you again. — from mashable.com

This is why when I heard about a modern and sleek Korean BBQ place downtown called Arisu that promises no smoke and no smell for my dining experience, I couldn’t believe it. Oh, and apparently PSY ate here too. I was there faster than Sonic the Hedgehog on speed, being careful not to forget to (gently) drag my wife along the way.

Upon entering, I gotta say, the place looked swankier from the outside. The inside looked a bit more modest, but that’s by no means a bad thing. It was pretty spacious, and interestingly, the whole space looked like a collection of three separate but slightly disjointed rooms.

Good lighting, though!

Good lighting, though!

We started with some appetizers. The most notable was the ssam bap, an interesting dish that can be best described as small ball-shaped purple multigrain rice, which you mix with tender grilled pork, and wrap inside lettuce leaves. With a dab of soybean paste on the side, it was extremely good and something that we’ve never tried before.

The ssam bap. As much fun to say as it is to eat!

The ssam bap. As much fun to say as it is to eat!

We then (obviously) ordered a whole bunch of meats to try out. The unexpected star of the show was the unseasoned beef. Yep, you read that right. UNseasoned beef. See, most people (myself included) assume that Korean BBQ is always sweet. This isn’t always the case and is actually only a small subsection of the overall Korean BBQ dining experience. Dipped into some sesame oil mixed with salt and pepper (provided by the restaurant), the beef was tender and delicious, unsullied by additional seasonings and sauces. I actually said “Oh my God, that was excellent” OUT LOUD, it was that good. We also sampled the pork and ribs, both delicious without being too fatty. And of course, the classic LA ribs, which in this case WAS marinated to perfection. The food was all delicious, without being overwhelming.

Don't worry, we had lots more than these pictured here.

Don’t worry, we had lots more than these pictured here.

We later found out that this restaurant was the only one that participated in the Summerlicious and Winterlicious events, a pretty good testament to the quality of their food since as you know they don’t just let ANYone in for these dining events (lest a Taco Bell show up on the list). And guess what? Everything they told you about being smokeless is pretty much true! While we can still smell the deliciousness of the meat sizzling in front of us as it was being cooked, virtually none stuck to our clothes. You can ostensibly walk right from a dinner here and go to the opera, and be perfectly OK.

Arisu apparently was another restaurant in the past with the same name which didn’t do too well. As a result, many people who pass by it may not even want to venture in because they don’t know that the whole restaurant has changed hands. And it’d be a shame, because this was one of the better Korean BBQs I’ve had the pleasure to try. I’d wholeheartedly recommend people to give this place a shot. It’s also one of the more underrated places I’ve been, and a bit of a hidden gem (if you can call being on freakin’ BLOOR STREET hidden).

Oh, and that bit about Psy? It’s true. He did eat here with his entourage during his stop in Toronto.

This time, it's ARISU STYLE!

This time, it’s ARISU STYLE!

 

–Final verdict: Mari Makan!

Arisu

584 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M6G 1K4
(416) 533-8104

 

Why Hakka does NOT exclusively mean Indian-Chinese

There’s something that I’ve wanted to put forth for a long time, and for some stupid reason have never had the opportunity to. Sometimes, when I have so many things to say about a particular subject,  my stupid brain locks up and goes into a 404 PAGE NOT FOUND mode, which may be entertaining for a comedy show, but is really lousy for someone who’s supposed to be the model of erudition (at least when it comes to food)

The point that has bugged me for a very long time is simply this: in Toronto, the term “Hakka” is used ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY when referring to a type of cuisine cooked by Chinese people who came from India. This is incorrect, and I will explain why below.

"So sit yo 'ass down!" (note: this may or may not look like me) -- from englishharmony.com

“So sit yo ‘ass down!” (note: this may or may not look like me) — from englishharmony.com

I’m not going to waste your time giving a long explanation about the history of how a large group of Chinese settlers ended up in India (Wikipedia does it so much better here). But what I want to tackle is the usage of the term “Hakka” when referring to the type of food that they cook. You see, the Chinese population in India ended up adapting their cuisine to local tastes, using local spices and herbs (the most notable one being garam masala), with the result being a beautiful fusion cuisine of the complex flavours of Chinese cooking and the punch and flavour of Indian cuisine. And who were the Chinese settlers in India? Hakka people. That is to say, a subgroup of the ethnic Han Chinese.

Well then, I hear you say (I sometimes hear voices, humour me), what’s so incorrect about calling the Indian-Chinese fusion cuisine as Hakka cuisine? The answer lies in that ACTUAL authentic Hakka cuisine is a million miles away from the interesting dishes you see in an Indian-Chinese restaurant. Real, traditional food of the Hakka people (which is therefore called “Hakka cuisine”, I know eh, what a concept) look much more like, surprise surprise, traditional Chinese food. Case in point, the salt baked chicken.

 

Damn! Where's the cornstarch and gravy? -- from wikipedia.org

WHAT! Where’s the cornstarch and gravy? — from wikipedia.org

Moreover, the Hakka people migrate all over the world, and not just India. The majority of Chinese people in Central America and the Caribbean, for example, are Hakkas (major example: Chinese Jamaicans). A crapload of Hakkas also immigrated to Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, the place where I was born and once lived. So to say that Indian-Chinese food is “Hakka” food is to unintentionally but completely discount two things: A) actual, authentic Hakka cuisine (that most people have never heard of) and B) OTHER Hakka fusion cuisines that Hakka people all around the world have created (such as Jamaican-Chinese fusion food – you never hear them called “Hakka”). It doesn’t help that the Indian-Chinese restaurants call themselves Hakka as well. While it’s not TECHNICALLY incorrect (the people who open these restaurants are, after all, Hakka people), it’s not exactly accurate either.

As some of you know, I’m not a traditionalist or purist when it comes to food. Hell, I’ve professed my love for Manchu goddamn Wok publicly, and insist that the oft-mocked American/Canadian-Chinese food is a legitimate type of cuisine in and of itself. So believe me when I say that I’m not trying to be pedantic just for the sake of being a pain in the ass. I’m just a bit tired of people asking me what’s my favourite cuisine, and having answered “perhaps Indian-Chinese food”, be faced with the reply “oooh, you mean Hakka food?”. Actually, no I do not.

So why does it bug me? Well, because I’m Hakka Chinese. And I have had many different kinds of Chinese cuisine cooked by wonderful Hakka cooks. Indian-Chinese dishes are just one wonderful part of the Hakka cuisine spectrum, but it is far and away only a small slice of it.

At the end of the day, I guess you can call it whatever you want, but let me ask you a question. To grab a random example, if you were a Quebecois Canadian, and your whole family emigrated to Japan, and your entire family opened a chain of restaurants that primarily serve sushi-poutine with wasabi, would you still call that Quebecois cuisine? Of course not. It’s become a beautiful Quebecois-Japanese fusion cuisine. A new cuisine in it’s own right. And THAT is what the so-called “Hakka cuisine” is in Toronto. It is, and always will be, Indian-Chinese food for me. And I will always love it.

Now gimme SOME MOAR Chicken Manchurian and pakoras!