Horang Restaurant and Bar (Nanaimo, BC)

Up until recently Korean restaurants on the North tip of Vancouver Island tend to land in one of two buckets: First and most plentiful are the Korean-owned Japanese-style restaurants that serve sushi, sashimi, noodles and are always identifiable by the addition of kimchi with their agadashi tofu. Second in minority are the Jjigae joints serving homestyle ramen stews that are a revelation when eaten in house and tend to suffer greatly if subjected to door dash.

Created by the same crew that ran a couple aforementioned-style restaurants in the past, Nanaimo’s Horang is proudly Korean (there are lots of double consonants on this menu) but also includes lots of nods to the Japanese-Korean fusion that made fish-pickled cabbage downright trendy when a lot of Canadians still thought tofu and seaweed was exotic. Also, they will slap cheese on anything!

Chiara and Issac, our gourmands in the field led us here a month ago for lunch and I was stunned and excited to see a Victoria-sized line out the door around noon. Definitely get a reservation! The dinning room was sleek, noisy and packed full of cool looking people and determined, black clothed waiters with arms full of bento boxes. When we got our seats, soju was poured along with house made yuzu lemonades to stave off the heat.

I mentioned bentos, but I’d be remiss in my promise to our very cool server if I didn’t make sure to use the proper Korean term soban. Each lacquered box containing a central rice dish surrounded by cured poke, BBQ’ed fish, fried chicken or whatever else you can order off their rotating list of comfort food hits plus pickles and miso soup… So yeah, very much like a bento. The “little bit ‘o everything” option was the lunch favourite by a mile as they could be found on every table.

But that is not how I do Korean food! Inspired by THIS GUY on Instagram I decided to cash in what Korean food cred I had with our table of four and do all the ordering. And what a feast I ordered!!!

Everyone got a tin tub of rice as a base of operations surrounded by a jungle of various banchan, griddle plates of sizzling meats and mountains of fried chicken. Scoop the rice, add meats and pickles, wrap ’round with shiso leaf or seaweed and crunch! A hundred flavours and textures caused the table to groan as more little plates piled up. Here were some of the highlights:

  • Kimchi – I know, it’s obvious to start with Koreas most famous culinary export, but a Korean restaurant will truly live and die on it’s spicy pickled cabbage. Horang’s kimchee was light and accessible, free of overly fermented flavours and medium-spicy. The perfect kimchee for the masses.
  • Tteokbokki – Show stopper! Tender, slightly chewy rice cakes simmered with a perfect level of spice and lots of extra sauce to dip rice rolls into.
  • KFC – Despite being drenched in a kiddie pool’s worth of neon orange yangyum sauce the chicken was shatteringly crisp to start with and kept it’s structure well. The sauce was sweeter than I expected but played well against all of the other, spicier flavours at out table.
  • Pickled Onions – Probably my second favourite banchan after the kimchee. They were light and fizzy and sparkled against the fried chicken and braised beef.
  • Mandu – Larger than gyoza, more akin to Tibetan Momos these dumplings had a perfectly gelatinous wrapper texture with a homestyle pork and veg filling dipped in a soy-vinegar sauce with subtle sesame aroma.

Soon we were awash in a sea of discarded side plates flecked with dried chillies. Everything was medium-spicy and never threatened to overwhelm the lighter flavours or less adventurous eaters unless ordered to be Chiara-level nuclear. Everyone did their best and we polished off most of the mountain (I’m mixing a lot of geographical-food metaphors here) with a bit left over for future lunches.

On the way to pay we noticed the little shop welded onto the side of the kitchen line where fans of Korean-style kimbap can grab a roll or rice bowl to go, wash it down with specialty teas and sodas and snag a five pack of hard to source flat, dried noodles to use later on your wildly popular mukbang stream… Or, you know… Whatever it is you do with your noodles.

Horang is top-tier eating, especially this far north on Vancouver Island. Remember to make a reservation, don’t be afraid to skip the soban and try something a little wild. Maybe even something with melted cheese, you maniac.

One thought on “Horang Restaurant and Bar (Nanaimo, BC)

  1. Aha…this place is definitely one of my favourites! Surprisingly we have never ordered the soban but always order large portions for next days lunches….after all, if your going to drive all that way…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *