Korean Izakaya in Downtown Toronto
If you are a Canadian living in downtown Toronto, you’ve probably been to an Izakaya – a Japanese “bar”. Today, I’d like to introduce you guys to a Korean “Izakaya” or more authentically speaking – Pojangmacha – that I came across while exploring the winter Toronto. Pojangmacha is not very known in comparison to Izakaya, so let me give you guys a brief background.
*updated April 2013: The ending scene of Psy’s Gentleman music video (the scene where he puts on rice cake around his neck like a scarf and dances/ ga-in eats fish cake in a suggestive manner) is in a generic Korean outdoor pojangmacha!
Little About Pojangmacha
Credit: wikipedia, hyperlinked below with “tented..”
Pojangmacha, now more often referred to as Pocha, is basically a Korean version of izakaya. Like izakaya, pocha started out as “tented restaurants on wheels” which sold common Korean street foods such as kimbab, spicy rice cake, fishcakes etc. This cute little idea first made its debut in Korea during the 1950s. Back then, the only menu available were roasted sparrow and soju (Korean staple alcohol).
Pocha hit a recession during the 1980s as the government – expecting an influx of foreigners during the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Olympics – enforced strict regulations on street food vendors. It quickly made its return with the currency crisis that plummeted Korea’s economy in 1997 ; Hundreds of business men whom lost their jobs found themselves drinking away in pocha, as it was a place that took them back to the “good old days” at a bargain. Since then, pocha became an important part of Korea’s drinking culture, though it evolved with time.
If you visit Korea today, an indoor pocha (Silnae Pocha) is way more common than the traditional tented pochas. Unlike the traditional tented pochas, indoor pochas have an actual kitchen, tables, and a bathroom! The basic idea of indoor pochas are that they are as comforting, casual, and cheap as the traditional tented restaurants on wheels, but regulated, clean, and indoors.
“7-Star Pocha”- Chilsung Pocha
There is an abundance of indoor pocha in Korea, and I remember fondly of the good times I had smearing hot sauce all over my face while trying to munch off the chewy meat of chicken claws at Hanshin Pocha (apparently one of the most famous chain Pocha in Korea). So when I came across 7-star Pocha near Yonge and Wellesley, I was exhilarated! Finally a Korean izakaya in downtown Toronto (that doesn’t have sushi on their menu).
Introducing, 7-Star Pojangmacha!
The sign is in Korean, so it might be hard to locate for those non-Korean speakers/readers out there, so here is the photo of the entrance. After visiting this place, I realized I walked past this place a couple of times without noticing it was a Pocha.. the crooked and cursive-like font makes it hard for non-Koreans to recognize, but when stared at for a while, you can see that it reads “Chil-sung Po-cha.”
Through a short interview with the owner, I learned that the unique and artsy interior of the store was inspired by the 1970s Korea. All the Korean may make you dizzy, but not to worry – the menu is luckily translated in English, though in tiny small letters.
The store is decorated with a series of old movie posters (some R rated – beware) from the 60s and 70s.
For instance, there is a poster of the legendary adult movie “Ppong” (Mulberry).
Pretty packed.. Friday night
The Menu is also uniquely designed with tacky colors to match the 70s theme
So, basically anything you order comes in a combo, or a set. Each combo comes with :
- 1 choice of alcohol
[ 1 bottle of Korean traditional rice wine, 1 bottle of soju, or 5 bottles of domestic beer]
- Main dish which you’ve chosen
- 7 side dishes
The star next to the menu represents the price (More stars = more money). Many of the dishes are spicy, but you can ask them to make it hotter or less hot depending on your spice tolerance.
So I ordered Spicy Seafood Ricecake and….
These are the side dishes that came with the combo.
The food was delicious, service pleasant, atmosphere unique. The rice-cake may look scary with all the red sauce glaring at you, but it really wasn’t too hot. I kind of wish I had asked them to make it more spicy.
One thing I would comment on is that the store is a bit small, and it easily gets very loud and crowded. I sort of accidentally eavesdropped on the conversation next to me for the entire 2 hours I was there. Oops!
How to get there:
1) Get off Wellesley, station
2) Turn right! You’ll see Starbucks. Cross the road.
3) Walk to your right for about 1.3 minutes. You should see 7-Star on your left side
So, If you want to experience a bit of authentic Korean indoor Pojangmacha, but are too poor/frugal to go to Korea (or even Finch! Token prices are on the rise!), why not drop by 7-star Pochjangmacha?
Now, learn Korean drinking games you can play at a Pocha from the post linked below: