I suspect my dad is an old-time foodie, the type whose memories are vignettes of the people, the places, and the history behind his most cherished experiences. He’s a gifted storyteller who recalls stories from his youth in vivid detail. Part historian, part food lover, I always enjoy hearing about his various experiences. It’s like I’m getting to know my dad as an individual, and getting to see where I might get the foodie tendencies (although he is a lot less picky than me, so who knows where I got that from).
A few months ago, we were out having dinner and he talked briefly about his childhood in Korea. He grew up with a lot of Chinese immigrants and even went to Chinese school as a youth. Being friends with Chinese immigrants meant being privy to their cuisine. This segued into a quick history of how the fusion Korean-Chinese cuisine came about, dishes that were traditionally Chinese but adopted by the Koreans and made their own. I’m not as gifted as a storyteller as my dad, nor do I possess his elephant-like memory, so I shall stop while I’m ahead in case I get the details wrong.
San Dong Banjeom is one such place in Calgary that serves Korean-Chinese cuisine. Located in a small strip mall in the Southwest, it’s a regular go-to spot for Koreans craving their signature Jja Jang Myun (noodles in black bean sauce), which tastes as close to the real deal as you can get in the Motherland. For those looking for traditional Korean dishes and the traditional Korean restaurant experience, they will be sorely disappointed. This is not the place to get “banchan” or order any type of BBQ meat to grill in the centre of the table. It also doesn’t have any bibimbap or traditional Korean stews. If you’re looking for that type of Korean cuisine experience, it’s best to go elsewhere. But if you’re in the mood to try out something different, this is the place to go.
Mark and I have been dining at San Dong Banjeom for a number of years, but hadn’t visited in a while. We used to have lunch here almost every Sunday after church. But our waistlines expanded so we lessened the frequency of our visits. Then we started eating gluten-free and for us, there’s no point in coming to a place known for its noodle dishes when we can’t eat those noodle dishes. I’m certain they must have some naturally gluten-free items, but I always long for the noodles so it wouldn’t be a fun visit.
Having said that, we made a special exception for my father-in-law’s birthday this year. Exceptions are ok for these types of occasions.
To start, we ordered the Yang Jang Pi, mixed seafood, beef, and vegetables in a spicy mustard (yellow horseradish) sauce. The mustard sauce comes on the side, so that you can mix in as much (or as little) as you want. We started with mixing just a little bit to get the flavours going. This was my first time trying this dish and I really enjoyed the freshness of the vegetables and seafood, and the spicy heat of the mustard sauce. Kinda like when you’re eating sashimi and you have a piece with a tad too much wasabi, the heat can really sneak up on you and invade your sinuses. I found the spiciness level to be perfect with the small amount of sauce added, but then Mark decided it’d be great to add more (since he’s a spicy food nut), and from there I could barely get past the searing heat attacking my nose with every bite. So… verdict? Delicious, but probably best to let individuals add mustard sauce onto their own portion instead of mixing it into the entire dish.
We also ordered the Tang Soo Yuk, breaded and deep-fried pork in a sweet and sour sauce, the Korean version of the Chinese Sweet & Sour Pork. I think San Dong Banjeom does the best Tang Soo Yuk. The pork is always perfectly battered and fried to a golden crisp. It doesn’t taste greasy and the pork holds up well in the sticky sauce that’s a great balance of sweet and sour.
I opted for the Jjam Ja Myun, which is a portmanteau of Jjam Bbong and Jja Jang Myun. Jjam Bbong is a spicy chili-oil based soup served with noodles, onions, and various seafood. Jjam Bbong, loosely translated, means “random stuff”, so you will often hear native Koreans talk about “jjam bbong”, but not necessarily refer to the soup. This soup has just the right level of spiciness for my tastes (you can tell by that vibrant red broth that it’s got some good chili oil action going) and is chock full of noodles and other goodies. I prefer getting this hybrid bowl so that I can have both the spicy soup and my favourite black bean noodles. Yum!
Another standout dish from this place that we didn’t order is the Kkan Pung Gi, breaded and deep-fried chicken in a sweet, garlicky and spicy chili sauce.
It may not be one of our regular go-to places these days, but I would recommend San Dong Banjeom to those who want to experience Korean-Chinese cuisine for what it is. It’s not traditional Korean, but it’s still a huge part of our food history and culture, and a pretty delicious one at that.
San Dong Banjeom
#14 3803 26th Ave SW
Calgary, AB T3E6L6
Phone: (403) 217-8855