The Golden Flower of the Faubourg
The word “kinka” means “golden flower”, which symbolizes happiness in Japanese. How fitting to have found myself entering the golden glow of Kinka Izakaya’s downtown pub on my last blue February evening in Montreal. Within 24 hours I would be embarking on a 3-month voyage to Costa Rica; a venture my loved ones empathically labeled as a vital “pursuit of happiness” journey. Little did I realize that my journey had already begun ahead of schedule on that wintry Sunday afternoon, from the moment the energetic Kinka staff greeted us with their traditional welcome.
Our entrance triggered the typical hospitality salutation, in which the maître d’ announces that a customer is arriving and the rest of the staff – from busboys to chefs – must promptly exclaim in unison “Youkoso irasshai mashita” (welcome!). I instinctively put on my best tour guide voice for my dining companions, explaining how there’s no better way to break the ice and form a quick bond between servers and patrons than by making them feel like a “regular”, even if it’s their first time setting foot in the establishment.
For those whose tastebuds gravitate toward variety, as do mine from chronic indecisiveness, you’ll be delighted to find tapas-style dishes dominating Kinka’s fixed menu. The bite-sized pub grub is designed to encourage sharing, as is their sophisticated drinks menu from which we selected the gekkeikan sake, served from a towering carafe made from real bamboo.
I recommended the takoyaki starter, deep fried octopus balls with tonkatsu sauce and bonito flakes; a crowd-pleasing yatai “street food” that first gained popularity in Osaka. From there, our ambitious appetites took over and we each ordered one of the heftier entrees, including the neo shoyu ramen. Portion control is impossible with its massive wooden ladle, where you can stack on pickled bamboo shoots, wilted nori seaweed and kombu kelp swimming in a mixed broth of chicken, pork and fish.
Between bites of barbecued pork slices and streaming mouthfuls of tangled noodles, I commented on my friend’s dish, the Kinoko Bibimbap, which is actually of Korean origin. We were initially headed for a nearby Korean restaurant that turned out to be closed, and drifted through the Concordia ghetto’s nouveau Chinatown in search of another sizzling stone bowl of comfort food. The mushroom bibimbap did not disappoint, though it did not create the expected crusted layer along the bottom of the dish at the end of my friend’s meal. Some prefer this outcome since they consider the final layer of bibimbap rice to be overcooked, while others look forward to these crunchy flavour-fused leftovers that stick to your teeth.
Since there was no tray or chopstick rest tableware, I advised my friend to lay her chopsticks horizontally across the rim of her bowl to follow Japanese table manners. It’s preferable to commit watashi-bashi (bridging chopsticks) than tsukitate-bashi (piercing chopsticks). While both are considered impolite, sticking chopsticks vertically in rice is more commonly regarded as a dining etiquette faux pas. The taboo comes from the funerary ritual of incense sticks which is visually similar enough to remind the Japanese of death, making the act of tsukitate-bashi considered not only rude but also a sign of bad luck.
Somewhere between the sake tasting notes and remarks on the thermal effect behind the katsuobushi shavings that were “dancing” atop our takoyaki, a woman seated next to us interjected in the best possible way any diner could hope to be interrupted. She inquired where and when she could read my review of Kinka Izakaya online. Flattered, I explained I was not a food blogger, but simply a foodie. This, of course, led to a lively and unexpectedly candid exchange about vocations and passions, which shone a light on the purpose of that evening’s going-away dinner.
What better send-off than a note of encouragement from a complete stranger that keeping food studies among the possible trajectories in my journey may indeed be worth exploring. Before I could bid adieu to the frozen island of Montreal from my cloudy window seat, before even setting foot at the airport, I had already decided to bookmark this fateful fluke in my excursion by dedicating its first chapter to the golden flower of the Faubourg.
Leaving Kinka Izakaya with warm bellies, warmer cheeks, and the warmest of spirits after our last sips of sake, we waved goodbye to the staff as they yelled “Arigatou-gozaimashita” (thank you!). Our laughter spilled into the street as we acknowledged the happy accident of our original restaurant choice being closed. Given the evening’s outcome, they should have yelled “Dou itasimasite” (you’re welcome!) instead.