More Than Just a Dish

Damso –

I debated long and hard with myself on what name I was going to give this post. I had just eaten a bulgogi burger at Damso on Denman for lunch. I wanted to write a post about it, but I didn’t know if I should make it one of my ‘burger chronicles’ post or not. On the one hand, the restaurant did call the sandwich I had a burger. But on the other hand, the ‘burger’ I had didn’t even fit the basic definition of a hamburger from wikipedia:

hamburger (also called a hamburger sandwichburger or hamburg) is a sandwich consisting of a cooked patty ofground meat (usually beef, but occasionally pork or a combination of meats) usually placed inside a sliced bread roll. ”

The sandwich I had did consist of meat placed inside a sliced bread roll with the usual accompaniments of onions and lettuce, but the meat in it wasn’t ground meat formed into a patty. It was slices of pork that were stir-fried.

Of course one could argue that the definition of the hamburger has evolved over the years. At first the hamburger described the beef patty. Then it evolved to include the buns. In recent years, the definition has expanded to include sliced bread rolls encasing pieces of meat that were neither all-beef nor grounded up. Examples of this include the chicken burger, usually with a piece of chicken breast placed between the buns; and the steak burger, which places a piece of non-ground beef in between the buns.

Under the more modern definition, it would seem that the spicy pork bulgogi burger I had today should be considered a burger. But then I’m reminded of the pulled pork sandwich and the sloppy joe, both similar in style to the spicy pork bulgogi burger and both not considered to be burgers.

I could go on and on, but it’s really only a matter of semantics. In the end, I decided not to categorize this post as one of my burger chronicles post because my wife had the kalbi short ribs with rice, which most definitely was not a burger.

My “burger” with yam fries. Would you consider this a burger?

No matter what you call this thing, it was one damn fine combination of meat and vegetables between two sesame buns. The spicy pork bulgogi was jam packed with flavours. It was at the same time spicy, slightly sweet, salty, acidic, aromatic, and generally delicious in every way. The bulgogi sauce was not too sweet and fully coated every slice of pork. This sweetness was further enhanced by the sweet onions. But the total sweetness was not overwhelming. It formed a perfect balance with the bulgogi sauce’s own saltiness and sour and spicy flavours of the kimchi.

The kimchi also provided the sandwich with a crunchy texture, and this crunch was further enhanced by the not-fully-cooked onions. The crunchiness matched perfectly with the soft, toasted bun and the tender pork bulgogi. Not wanting to be left out, the lettuce also performed the crucial role of adding a hint of freshness to temper the spicy, stir-fried pork bulgogi.

I had absolutely zero complaints about the flavour and texture of the burger. I did, however, have a beef  with the lack of amount of pork in the sandwich. After finishing the burger, I felt like I was only about 20% full. This was a very small burger. Though the buns were regular sized, the amount of pork bulgogi included had probably a half or a third of the total volume and weight of an average hamburger patty. The burger was more like a slider with really big buns than a regular hamburger.

I had to try to satisfy the rest of my hunger with the included yam fries.

The yam fries were extra-crispy, just the way I liked them to be. Their crispiness was so addictive that I initially ingested them at the rate of about 2 fries/second . After after about five seconds, my pace slowed to 1 fry/ 2 seconds, then 1 fry / 4 seconds, the 1 fry / 16 seconds, and finally I stopped eating the yam fries altogether. I stopped because the yam fries were simply too sweet. On top of the already sweet yams/sweet potatoes , the fries were doused with syrup. The sweetness was pleasant at first, but after around a handful of fries, it started becoming a little unbearable. I think what they were trying to do to the fries was to mimic the common practice of drizzling sweet syrup on Korean fried chicken. But fried chicken was salty to begin with. The sweetness added a nice flavour contrast to the  previously salty fried chicken. With the yam fries, the syrup only added sweetness to something that was already sweet to begin with.

Recognizing that I was still at least 50% hungry from the listless look on my face, my wife offered me some of her short ribs. One bite of the ribs and my facial expression turned from an inanimate blankness to one that resembled the look of over-caffinated alertness. There was, in reality, no caffine or other stimulants in the short ribs (at least none that were mentioned in the menu). I was just surprised at the flavour and texture of the galbi. These short ribs were definitely not marinaded in your regular factory-produced galbi sauce. They had a subtle flavour that was a stark contrast to the bold-flavoured short ribs served in most local Korean restaurants. These ribs had complex layers of subdued flavours that only started to reveal themselves after each subsequent bite. On my first bite I tasted soy;  on my second bite I tasted sweet pears; on my third I got hints of garlic.

And the short rib had a steak-like texture that required each piece to be broken down by several consecutive bites. The galbi at Damso had the actual, familiar texture of beef, where each piece had to be severed from the whole either with a knife or by the sharp bite of healthy human teeth. This was in contrast to other local galbi dishes I’ve had, where the beef was marinated for such a long time that it lost it’s original texture and acquired an unrecognizably mystery-meat like soft and chewy texture.

The galbi dish also came with sides of cood onions in sauce and a plate of three different types of banchan.

The banchan selections of kimchi, cucumbers, and potatoes were generally good, but the real star of the side dishes were the onions in sauce. Once again, the sauce was subdued and allowed the onions to shine. And the onions shone in a sweet, crunchy, and juicy brilliance. Having them between every few bites of the short ribs really aided in the unravelling of the complex flavours of the meat.

Even though I was never able to secure a reservation to dine at any of David Chang’s momofuku restaurants in New York, I think I might’ve gotten a taste similar to what they offer from my lunch today at Damso. This is not your average Korean restaurant. Damso is part of the noveau Korean cuisine movement that is sweeping North America along with Momofuku in New York and the Kogi trucks in L.A. The pork bulgogi burger and galbi short ribs my wife and I had today were revelations. Looking over their dinner menus, I saw even more interesting items that were begging for me to try them. I will be back for dinner at Damso. Soon. Very soon….Oh, and that burger debate I had in my mind…A hamburger is just a dish…The food at Damso spans a whole new genre.

Damso Modern Korean Cuisine on Urbanspoon


About dontcallmeafoodblogger

Just like most people can think of a song that perfectly fits the mood of a moment or a particular situation, I often think about meals or dishes that would be perfect for a specific moment. Most of my thoughts are about food and I think in terms of food. To me, food is much more than something you ingest, desire, crave, or dislike. It relates to culture, to family, to politics, and to every other aspect of my life. I admit I might be a little obsessed and maybe even addicted to food, but I've been afflicted all my life. I was born with it and with this outlet for my food thoughts, I'll have a chance to run wild with it.
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