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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Change Is Fine!

Noelle Chorney
Published Thursday November 12, 05:28 pm
Izumi goes from good to great with a menu shift

IZUMI
3010 Arlington Ave.
306-652-9911

Sometimes ownership changes in restaurants can signal the end of an era. In the case of Izumi, the change of ownership — and the addition of Korean menu items in particular — just means more of a good thing.

I had always enjoyed the Japanese food at Izumi, but I discovered about a year ago that the new owners are Korean, and they’ve introduced a small but mighty list of Korean menu items. You can go for bibimbap, for example, the classic stone-bowl stir-fry on rice accompanied by kimchi, pickled bean sprouts and a fried egg on top. That hot bowl makes the rice deliciously crunchy around the edges, and the dish stays oven-hot right to the last delicious morsel.

There’s also japchae (the classic glass noodle and beef stir-fry), a seafood and green onion pancake (topokki), and a thick rice-noodle stir-fry with sweet and spicy sauce (which a friend of mine ordered, fondly remembering her visit to Korea years ago, exclaiming, “This is the best comfort food!”).

I’ve had great luck by simply showing up and ordering one of the daily specials. Just recently I had my world rocked by a spicy tofu and pork belly dish, served alongside three delicious side dishes (seaweed salad, sesame-marinated tofu, and kimchi). The server did a double take when I ordered it, since Canadians can’t usually take the heat, but I loved every bite. (I didn’t even break a sweat! Although my nose ran a bit…)

When I shared this experience with a friend of mine of Korean heritage, he said, “Yeah, that place is great — but you have to try the fried chicken!”

Apparently Izumi is the only place in Saskatchewan that serves up classic Korean fried chicken, which in recent years has become a craze in Korea. Fried chicken and a beer is a classic way to end the work day in Korea. It’s even a word: chimaek is the combination of the words “chicken” and “maekju,” Korean for beer. And if you’re crazy for chimaek, you’re chideokhu — a “chicken maniac.”

It’s even been popularized in TV shows — it’s the favourite food of the heroine of “My Love From the Star”, a popular Korean TV drama, who’s known to say, "It's snowing. How can you not have chimaek?" Seriously, considering we’re on the verge of winter, how can we not get on this?

Last spring I participated in the Korean fried-chicken craze without even knowing. I was visiting snobby restaurants in Vancouver and tried Hawksworth’s version of KFC, which was Korean fried cauliflower (instead of chicken) — deliciously battered and coated in sweet and spicy sauce, chimaek-style. I didn’t even know the source of their inspiration, but I knew it was delicious.

Now I find out there’s an international food craze being recreated in Saskatoon at Izumi? I felt so behind the times, and had to remedy the situation immediately. So on a Friday night, I packed up my kids and hauled them off to Izumi for fried chicken.

We ordered WAY too much food, partially because the sushi list is long and my kids are super keen on sushi. We practically ordered two meals: sushi for them and Korean for us. But then my husband couldn’t resist the udon soup either, so it was just too much food, with a big plate of fried chicken at the centre.

I sampled my beer and crispy fried chicken, and decided this was something I could seriously get behind. It’s a lovely, crispy batter — not too salty, with juicy, molten hot chicken inside. The seafood and green onion pancake was eggy, oniony and packed full of fresh shrimp and squid. And the japchae had that wonderful quality where the noodles stay hot right into your belly, warming you right to the core. I love that feeling, especially on a chilly night.

While we’d ordered too much food, I enjoyed the satisfaction of my occasionally squirmy and sometimes-fussy kids sitting relatively still and packing away a surprising amount of sushi, edamame and fried chicken. We had enough japchae and seafood pancake to take home for lunch the next day.

A plate of fried chicken is basically a whole chicken — like a small bucket of KFC, for $22.95. Or you can get the ‘sweet and spicy’ sauced chicken for two bucks more. As we were leaving, I got the low-down from our server. He said, “We offer two flavours now, honey soy and the sweet and spicy. To try it all, you should order half honey soy, which is cooked right on the chicken, and then ask for the sweet chili sauce on the side. Then you can try all three!”

Shit: why didn’t I know that before? Now I’m going to have to go back and have more fried chicken. That’s not something I can justify doing every week. But it’ll have to happen, and soon.

As an aside, I have to warn you that if you need to do any work or activity or thinking of any kind, it’s best not to have chimaek. I made the mistake of trying to write this article after my chimaek feast, but all I wanted to do was lie on the couch with my hand on my belly and drink another beer.

Speaking of Canadian hibernation (AKA: lying on the couch drinking beer when the weather gets cold), let’s think a bit more about that “It’s snowing, how can you not have chimaek?” comment. We’re headed into winter. Southeast Asian countries have spicy dishes like curries that are really awesome in the winter. But Korea actually has a winter. Their spicy soups and stews were designed to warm you up in cold weather. If you haven’t sampled them, you must, very soon.

You might notice that the dishes are light on vegetables. That’s because those little Korean side dishes pack a nutritional wallop. Kimchi is like spicy sauerkraut — that fermented stuff is chock-full of nutrients and probiotics. Just eat up your side dishes and don’t bother feeling guilty about your meaty stew or starchy stir-fry. It’ll warm you to the core. It might be a matter of life or death. Winter is coming. 

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