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To call it an addiction may be a bit much, but week after week my regular visits to a little stand in the Farmers’ Market “Real Food Court” suggests a certain level of infatuation with chef Salar Madadi’s bowls of hot rice.
Salar’s 20 different toppings ranging from purple kale, green mango and raw fish have got locals hooked since their early November open.
Pokeh is one of the first dedicated poké bars in Canada, serving the staple Hawaiian appetizer best described as “sushi in a bowl.” Salar, who also runs the Meatwagon food truck along with his wife Jeannie Crawford, brought one of their favourite culinary discoveries from their honeymoon in Venice Beach. The Pokeh team is extremely excited to bring to Hamilton a dish that Salar believes to be one of the next big food trends.
The appetizer gives customers the freedom to play with a variety of proteins and flavors ranging from the classic bowl of base ingredients, to complex and layered notes of spice, citrus, or a variety of Eastern culinary staples. Ordering the chef’s choice is not only an excellent introduction to this array of options, it also lets Salar and brother Shayne’s culinary proficiency shine.
Salar’s love for cooking is synonymous with his own love for building, learning and creativity. Prior to starting with Meatwagon, Salar worked in IT full-time for 13 years. “With IT and coding I never really felt like I got the same satisfaction of creating something or really building something. I build programs but there’s something about physically working with my hands that I like.”
Salar learned about Poke during his travels, but in true foodie form, he studied, self-taught, and was able to bring to the Hamilton Farmers’ Market what has now become a staple for many regulars.
“There’s so much to learn about food and so many different cultures, ingredients, it’s really like endless,” explains Salar.
“No one will ever know everything about food. I love learning, I love to read a lot of what I know is self-taught, like I read all the time: random cook books, stuff on the internet, and I always watch random YouTube videos.”
Salar’s culinary journey started with a gifted slow cooker purchased at a garage sale, and eventually transitioned to national level barbeque competitions, where he and his team was crowned the 2014 National Bacon Champions and competed in an international competition in Las Vegas. Barbequing and meat carts may be in separate culinary worlds from the Eastern inspired raw food dishes, but Pokeh’s excellence exemplifies the skill and flexibility that Salar and his team possess.
With our faces buried in our scarves, a close friend and I trekked towards what most people think of as the end of the James Street foodie strip. A colourful rustic sign invited us to walk further down James to reach our destination.
Walking past a few beaten storefronts and an old Pizza Select sign, we found ourselves in a small restaurant whose interior design could be described as a meeting of painted wooden interior and crochet. Hand painted plates and mugs lined refurbished wood shelves, alongside jars of pickled veggies and Korean cookbooks. A painted board reading “Home-Made with Love” and “Golden Brown” looks over the space.
Golden Brown is a Korean take-out restaurant that serves a variety of classic Korean dishes and contemporary favourites. Julia and Jake Park, the restaurant’s owners and mother and son duo, are the visionaries behind the latest addition to the James Street food scene, offering homemade kimchi, bulgogi, jeyuk, namul rice balls, gimbob and their signature Korean fried chicken. Despite the novelty of these dishes in Canada’s food culture, there is something distinctly cozy and comforting about each and every one of Julia’s dishes, which was no accident on her part.
“Just like how our catchphrase is ‘Home-Made with Love,’ I want to provide or make an area that can feel like home and try to make food that feels like moms made it, mom’s food. I wanted to have this area to be comfortable for everyone to share the home cooked food,” explained Julia, as translated by her son.
Julia is passionate about her Korean heritage and culture, and has consistently tried to preserve that culture through her career as an interior designer. During her undergraduate studies in Korea, she worked with a group of artists to restore old pieces of art for various exhibitions. Since she moved to Canada, she has had the opportunity to hold educational sessions and exhibitions across the country.
For this family, Golden Brown is as much a restaurant as it as an opportunity to showcase Korean food culture in a welcoming environment. The James St. area was a perfect fit for Julia who loves to explore local art culture. In the near future, Jake and Julia hope to host open educational sessions during art crawls highlighting different aspects of Korean food culture.
The maternal and nostalgic atmosphere of Golden Brown is one of the central parts of its spirit and charm. Julia and Jake have received a warm reception from the local community and fellow restaurateurs, and the design and art-oriented community has also taken notice of their unique presentation. Its truly rare to find a new restaurant that can appeal to a younger, trendier audience by bringing tried and true dishes that creates a longing for home-cooked meals.
“Everyone, when they grow up they go out exploring for their dreams, but when they’re alone, they will always miss mom’s food,” reminisced Julia. “I’m trying to provide that here. Even though I’m old, I still miss my mom’s food. All the foods we have here are like what my mom’s been making for a long time, what my grandmas have made for a long time.”
Golden Brown is located on 28 Barton Street East. For menu offerings and more information about take-out and delivery, follow their Instagram.
Photo Credit: Jon White/Photo Editor