Tomoya: Korean Cooking

An old, tiny establishment with just a bar and two tables for seating, with an old TV turned on at the front, and images of famous Korean stars and Korean foods decorating the otherwise dull walls. Outside the windows are plastered with more Korean foods, shaded by a small yellow and green awning. This place looks very hole-in-the-wall-y, except for that it’s not; it is situated in an alley between Odori and Orion-Dori, at the end of the back entrance to Don Quixote. It’s easy to spot, and also easy to slip your mind.

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As a note, if you go for lunch, you may get a slight discount on the lunch specials written on the board on the wall, but it is not significant (about 80 yen or so). As another note unrelated to the food directly, the oshibori (wet towels) are mint-scented, which is amazing on a hot, humid day in summer.

I came here on a hot Saturday looking for some chilled noodles, which I fell in love with more than their Japanese counterparts during my trip to Korea. Oddly enough, after flipping through the menu, I ended up deciding on a spicy egg stew instead, so go figure. The food is good, although definitely somewhat aimed at the Japanese clientele–the soup was only slightly spicy, definitely not “spicy,” yet my Japanese counterpart next to me was wiping her nose off every now and then with her even less-spicy sundubu. Both dishes come with rice and 3 small side dishes.

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I then came again the next Thursday evening as a reward for beating through a stressful day of work, and because I was really craving chijimi (the Japanese blanket word for Korean savory pancakes). Since I was the only one in the restaurant, I had a bit of time to chat with the owner, who was the same lady who waited on us the previous week, and apparently does every single role in the restaurant–management, cooking, cleaning, etc. She has no hired help, which she says can get stressful at times, but is in general manageable for the size. From the western part of Korea, she gives off the impression of a very personable and friendly woman, but at the same time very tough and not someone to mess with. Perhaps for this reason she has quite a few regulars, with whom she chats with and gives special tastes of her newly made batch of kimchi (which she luckily also bestowed upon me this time), for example, as well as foods not listed on the menu that she makes to hopefully suit their tastes. Despite it being a standard restaurant, the almost-home-y feel is much like that of your friendly neighborhood bar.

However, as soon as I ordered my seafood chijimi, she had to disappear into the kitchen to whip it up, emerging about 15 minutes later with the large pancake and 3 smaller dishes, which were different from last time. The pancake was fat and soft with perfectly tender white fish, squid, and shrimp, as well as onion, carrots, flat green onion, zucchini, and what I think may be a bit of potato. I personally prefer my chijimi a bit more crispy, but it was in any case still quite good. Noticing me slow down, she asked if I would like to take the rest of it home–a rarity in Japan, which then sparked a conversation about doggy-bag food culture in Korea vs. Japan (although she said she hasn’t been back in so long, she’s not sure of how it is in Korean anymore)–and gave me some more dipping sauce to take along with it. (She recommended I heat the rest of it with oil in a frying pan to make a crispier flavor, if that was my preference. Unfortunately I am about to heat this up in our work microwave, so that’ll need to happen next time.)

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I’m not an expert on Korean food by any means, so I cannot accurately judge this by any other standards but my own, but the food is quite good. Not the best I’ve ever had, but definitely worth a go, as you get your money’s worth (about ¥1000-1400 for the large meal). Also on the walls are signatures from many Tochigi Brex basketball players, who apparently come relatively often (I am told quite a few are Korean).

Also be aware that the opening times listed on the shop (11:00-22:00) are not exactly accurate; I showed up on Saturday at 11:30, and she said she wouldn’t open until 12:00, but let me inside anyways, gave me some water, and took my order anyways once I decided. The restaurant is also not listed on Google Maps and has no restaurant, so just be on the lookout for the green and yellow awning.

友家 (Tomoya)
320-0803栃木県宇都宮市栃木県曲師町

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