Sort-of Secret: No Pain Gimbap, a new west-end kitchen for Korean snacks
The sort-of secret: No Pain Gimbap, a grab-and-go counter inside a Dundas West wine bar from Donna’s co-owner Ann Kim
You may have heard of it if: You’ve popped into Grape Crush for a drink
But you probably haven’t tried it because: It’s only about a month old
What’s wrapped in seaweed and steamed rice, comes in a dizzying array of options, and is perfectly portable for summer picnics? You might be thinking of maki (sushi rolls), given their ubiquity in the city. But next time you mull over takeout options for a sunny day at the park, consider gimbap (a.k.a. kimbap), Korea’s answer to sushi.
No Pain Gimbap—from Ann Kim, co-owner of Donna’s, the much-loved west-end restaurant—recently took over the kitchen inside Grape Crush, a wine bar and bottle shop at Dundas and Ossington. For Kim, who’s always wanted to open a Korean restaurant, it’s a triumphant new expression of her homespun, inventive culinary style.
“My parents have moved in with me and my family, so we’ve been cooking a lot more Korean food at home,” she says. “It’s been really nice to re-visit some of the foods I remember from my childhood, and put my generation’s spin on them.” In late March, Kim saw an ad on Facebook for available kitchen space at Grape Crush. Steps from Trinity Bellwoods, it was the perfect location for what she was after: a Korean restaurant with a takeout-friendly concept. Within a month of responding to the ad, No Pain was born.
Gimbap looks a lot like maki, but key differences set the two apart. The most obvious (besides country of origin) is the filling. Maki—at least traditionally—contains raw fish, but gimbap is typically filled with cooked or preserved food like pork, egg and kimchi. And while sushi rice is usually seasoned with sugar and vinegar, gimbap rice is flavoured with sesame oil and salt. (The rice in Kim’s gimbap is a hybrid of the two, incorporating mirin, salt, vinegar and sesame oil for a delicate but flavourful base.) Both wrap the goods in toasted seaweed, known as nori in Japanese and gim (hence gimbap) in Korean.
The spicy pork gimbap is an early menu favourite on the menu, which consists of five kinds of gimbap, pork-and-vegetable dumplings, and a few house-made dips. The pork butt is marinated in what Kim calls a “very traditional Korean mom pork marinade: gochujang, soy, sesame, sugar and garlic.” It’s then grilled on the flat top and rolled up in nori with aromatic perilla leaves, scallions, purple rice and ssam sauce (gochujang and doenjang, or fermented soybean paste).
This roll is a perfect example of gimbap’s peculiar magic: the savoury filling makes it satisfyingly substantial, but it’s light enough to leave you feeling borderline spritely. In other words, this is truly the perfect picnic food—hence “no pain.” The name is also a play on no pain (bread, en Français) as much of the menu is gluten-free.
Another triumphant, veg-friendly option is the crispy fried shiitake roll, a tribute to Donna’s popular fried mushroom sandwich. Shiitakes are dredged in rice flour, deep fried and rolled up with iceberg lettuce, carrot matchsticks, caper mayo and teriyaki sauce. The rice flour dredge keeps the ’shrooms impressively crispy hours after pick-up, and the fungi’s deep earthiness give this vegetarian option a near-meaty heft.
In another rendition, Kim brilliantly transmutes bibimbap—the popular Korean rice dish—into a vegetable-forward roll that combines mirin-seasoned omelette and burdock root braised with sweet soy, spinach, sautéed carrots, bean sprouts and gochujang-laced bibim sauce. It’s all the goodness of bibimbap in a convenient, compact package.
To go with your choice of roll(s), you can get an order of pork-and-vegetable dumplings, deep fried and served with chili crisp and soy, or a crisp iceberg lettuce and wakame salad, mild enough to serve as a refreshing palate cleanser as you explore the rest of the gimbap menu. That salad is dressed with a creamy (yet dairy-free) pumpkin-sesame dressing, which also comes on the side as a dip, along with spicy mayo and chili crisp with soy sauce.
As for No Pain’s future direction, Kim hopes to capitalize on gimbap’s uniquely takeout and delivery-friendliness, but isn’t clear yet on where that will take her. For now, you can pick up these delectable bites at Grape Crush, or order online for local delivery.