Imonay on Bloor is not your standard Korean fast food place. Sure, like other spots in Koreatown it's fast, cheap and kitschy, but it also offers a bevy of options rarely found in Toronto: Red Bean Kal Gook Soo (red bean sauce and hand-cut rice noodles), Galchi Chorim (soy-marinated cutlass fish), Odang Dinner (a fishcake specialty) and my favourite, Kong Biji Jigae.
Kong Biji Jigae (alternately called Kong Biji, Biji Jigae, and Biji), is a ground-soybean stew rich in flavour, high in protein, and soothing to winter-addled bodies. When I lived in Seoul I was lucky to have a biji place around the corner from my apartment, and winter would see me eating twice weekly bowls of the thick, nourishing soup. Even in Korea, kong biji jigae can be tough to find, but in Toronto it's an especially rare treat, so when I saw it on the sandwich board outside Imonay, I knew I had to go in.
Entering Imonay was like taking a trip back to 1981: wallpaper wainscoting, metal-tube chairs and superfluous mirrors added a certain "grandma's living room" flavour to the otherwise grungy diner decor. I was seated promptly by a friendly server, and, just like they do in Korea, ordered my meal immediately.
It didn't take long before my table started filling with complimentary side dishes. At $6.99 per steaming hot pot, the biji is a steal, especially considering it comes with six savoury starters. A trio of kimchis (red-peppered Napa, white Napa and shredded daikon) provided all the sour and spice I needed, while soft-cooked soy-marinated daikon, homemade spring-onion fishcakes, and long shreds of sesame-slicked seaweed delivered a cornucopia of textural delights.
I had barely started to tuck into this preliminary feast when the main course arrived: a steaming bowl of soybean stew, with a side of purple-tinged, bean-speckled rice. It took a while for my bubbling pot to cool down enough for a dip, and when I did I was rewarded with the rich flavour I've come to expect from a bowl of biji jigae. Unfortunately the texture of the stew, which I prefer smooth and soft like silken tofu, was on the decidedly gritty end of the biji spectrum. Although not my favoured texture, the soup was fresh and flavourful, and dotted with delicate curls of soft pork. Grittiness aside, I liked my biji enough to finish the whole bowl.
My search for Toronto's best biji jigae will continue, but I'll likely be back to Imonay to sample some more of their original offerings, and enjoy another round of their deliciously diverse side dishes.