Our Journey to Bringing korean Cuisine to Rochester MN
The restaurant’s name, BEBAP (pronounced "be-bop"), can be read as both onomatopoeia and bi-lingual pun; bibimbap is a Korean mixed rice dish. Its logo is a depiction of Hyeonmu, the black turtle of Korean mythology representing water, winter, and protection for the northern reaches of the world.
The idea was born out of a soap opera habit.
That soap opera habit belongs to BEBAP, Ootori Sushi, and Mezza9 owner Sammi Loo. Her favorite shows, K-dramas like Oh My Ghost, Crash Landing On You, Mr. Queen, and Let’s Eat Series all share one trait: they make her crave Korean food.
“When I’m watching Korean shows, it makes me crave the food! After watching them, I always wished I could eat right away. If I finished an episode of Let’s Eat and wanted classic Korean street food like tteokbokki - food hot and spicy simmered rice cake, with a light, savory base of eomukguk, I could not have it, because we did not have a Korean restaurant in town. That’s what made me have the idea to open this Korean inspired eatery,” says Loo.
As with anything Loo does related to food, she dove deep into the ingredients, techniques, and cultural heritage behind the deliciousness. To understand Korean food’s bold, flavorful sweetness and depth of texture, Loo learned about fermentation, studied umami’s versatility, and scoured suppliers for proper ingredients. She designed a menu full of dishes singing with color, flavor, and variety; a perfect addition to Rochester’s ever-diversifying food horizons. Then she designed a space to match.
Loo was not alone on her mission… or in her fondness for Korean food. Tiffany Alexandria, BEBAP’s creative director, recently returned from an extended trip back home to Taiwan, where the accessibility of Korean food made its versatility obvious.
“When we were in Taiwan, we would eat Korean food 3 or 4 times a week. It shows how broad that food actually is. dakgalbi today, kimchi-jjigae tomorrow, dolsot-bibimbap the next day…all different, all so satisfying to the palate in different ways. Or fried chicken with friends and cold beer,” says Alexandria.
What's Korean food?
For diners new to Korean cuisine: banchan, side dishes based on rice, vegetables, seafood, and meat that function like condiments accompany every meal. kimchi is the principle banchan and a core element of Korean culture and identity. Other common ingredients include: sesame oil; doenjang, a fermented bean paste; gochugaru, dried chili peppers with the seeds removed; and gochujang, fermented chili paste.
Once seated amongst the space’s energizing blend of bright reds, shining golds, and cooling hues of blue, diners will receive a trio of complementary banchan, all made with carefully selected ingredients to ensure gustatory fidelity. Gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan options will be available.
“Almost all the ingredients we use are South Korean products,” says Loo. “The details are so important. Korean food is all about the combination of flavors: sweet, spicy, salty, vinegary… Korean seasoning, spices, and sauces have unique flavors better suited for Korean dishes.”
BEBAP’s menu is seasonal, with recipes crafted for the late fall through winter, spring through summer, and late summer through early fall.
Leading the pack of brothy, heart-warming recipes on the winter menu are dishes like kimchi-jjigae, a kimchi stew with pork belly and tofu and galbitang, a hearty, nourishing soup made with beef short ribs.
Other standouts include dolsot-bibimbap - a dish of rice, veggies, egg, and red pepper paste served in a sizzling-hot, shallow stone pot which serves to crisp the rice’s bottom and edges and nudge sesame-oil toward the front of the palate, and bo-ssam - an assemble-your-own wrap dish which consists of wrap-boiled pork belly, radish kimchi, ssamjang, fermented shrimp, jalapeños, garlic, and lettuce.
And, though decidedly not a Korean BBQ joint, BEBAP will of course serve bulgogi, the ever-popular thinly-sliced beef strips marinated in sweet, garlicy soy sauce with green onions already captivating armies of American tastebuds.
The bar will serve an array of Korean inspired cocktails, soju, mocktails, Korean specialty soft drinks, and a specially-crafted Yuzu rice lager from Little Thistle called Dragon “Peace.”