In an area famous for shawarma, Koreans are wrapping things up in their own style.
Makkal Chon, which opened in 2008, is located at Lawrence Avenue East on Warden Avenue. The Scarborough restaurant specializes in Korean food. It is especially well known for ssam-bap which is rice, sauce and meat wrapped in a leafy vegetable. Ssam means “wrap” and bap means “rice” in Korean.
A variety of vegetables and meats can be combined. Some of the leaves Makkal Chon serves are lettuce, red kale, boiled cabbage, bok choy, among others. Diners have a choice of beef marinated in soy sauce (bul-go-gi), chicken teriyaki, spicy boneless chicken (dak-gal-bi), grilled mackerel, spicy pork, pork marinated in soy sauce (yang-nyum galbi) and spicy squid and pork (osam bul-go-gi), to accompany the leaves. There is also a vegetarian option of basic vegetable wraps.
Kyungrye Park, 57, runs the restaurant and makes sure every dish gets her approval before being served. She started her business in Scarborough to cater to the elderly Korean residents in the neighbourhood.
“Scarborough was Koreatown before Korean immigrants occupied [Bloor and] Christie,” said Rena Son, Park’s daughter. “Many elders who were here for a long time live in Scarborough.”
Son said the restaurant’s secret to success is authenticity and originality.
“We’re the only place in the GTA that serves a full set of ssam-bap,” she said. “Our restaurant has been around for a while now and it’s recognized for serving authentic Korean food.”
In addition to the wide selection of vegetables, the ssam-bap set includes “purple rice,” made of black wild rice and white rice, and soybean paste stew (doenjang jjigae). Park brings the soybean paste and one of the ssam vegetables, from Korea.
According to Son, there are many non-Korean customers who come to the restaurant after being recommended by their friends or from reading reviews online. She says they see customers from all parts of the GTA.
“I wondered how these customers found our restaurant because it’s not a common location for a Korean restaurant,” Son said. “I thought it was because there’s a P.A.T. [a Korean grocery store chain] nearby, but I found reviews of our restaurant online.”
Sally Hyesoo Kim, a Scarborough resident, has been a customer at Makkal Chon for about six months. After hearing about the restaurant from a friend, she was glad to have Korean food within her reach.
“For the past few years, I had to travel 50 minutes to an hour to go to Korean restaurants [in North York],” Kim said. “Makkal Chon only takes 25 to 30 minutes by public transit. It’s convenient for Korean students in the area like myself.”
Makkal Chon is located at 1979 Lawrence Ave. East.