You may think a once abandoned barn nestled into the foot of Mount Currie would be an odd place to put a Korean fusion restaurant.
But, just like the many different distinct flavours that make up Korean cuisine, putting all those seemingly disparate factors together has worked out for Sonia Lee and her staff at the Bitchin' Food Company since it opened this spring.
Lee, born in Seoul, had never envisioned a career in the restaurant industry until she packed up and moved to Pemberton last year after more than two decades in Vancouver. Initially, her stint in Spud Valley was meant to be temporary, but once she noticed an old barn on Highway 99 that had sat vacant for years, light bulbs started to go off in her head.
"I initially wanted to do a little international café that offered more than just the classic American comfort food," Lee said, who has maintained the rustic feel of the building by incorporating salvaged materials, like a set of old saloon-style doors, into the décor.
After noticing the lack of diversity in Pemberton's culinary offerings, Lee decided to incorporate the bold flavours of her native country into the menu, which offers everything from the beloved Korean hangover food, bibimbap, to souvlaki, poutine, gourmet Cache Creek beef burgers, and other traditional pub fare.
But even with such a varied menu, Lee knows she won't satisfy every diner — a mantra that's coded into the restaurant's very name.
"I like my business name, Bitchin' Food, because I can't please everyone," she laughed. "For us, bitchin' means: 'too good to be polite.'"
Wedged between traditional Lil'wat territory and Pemberton's town centre, Bitchin' Food is often the first introduction diners have to Korean cooking.
"I very consciously only offer a few dishes that are a signature of Korean cuisine," Lee said.
There's the aforementioned bibimbap, a hearty bowl of sticky rice topped with sautéed veggies, beef and a fried egg, all mixed together with hot chili pepper paste.
You've got the sweet and savoury succulent delights of bulgogi dupbap, thinly-sliced and marinated beef on a bed of rice. Or maybe the popular street food of dubokki is more your style, a smorgasbord of Korean-style rice cakes with assorted vegetables and beef in a mild soy sauce.
There's even an Asian flair to her sandwich selection, with the namesake Bitchin' Sandwich packed with a deep-fried pork cutlet and layered with caramelized kimchi, grilled zucchini and Japanese mayo.
No matter her customers' familiarity with the unique cuisine of South Korea, Lee makes it hard for her patrons to resist some of the restaurant's more exotic dishes.
"I think it's a matter of people becoming friendly with Korean cuisine," she said. "The smell of our galbi — house-marinated ribeye — coming out on a sizzling plate with a few side dishes, people look at it and then the next time to come in they want to try it."
Unlike its East Asian counterparts, Korean cuisine has only really started to catch on in North America in recent years, thanks in part to the efforts of innovative chefs and restaurateurs on the West Coast who've deftly blended the spicy, sweet and tangy flavours of Korea with other complimentary cooking styles. (Korean-American chef and TV personality Roy Choi is largely credited for launching the Korean taco craze out of his L.A-based food trucks several years ago.)
Lee explained why so many city-dwelling gastronomes have developed an obsession with the bold flavours of her homeland, and she's hoping the Korean food craze will continue to spread to the Spud Valley.
"We have a very visual (cuisine), a lot like Japanese food. There are a lot of very colourful dishes that have great basic flavours, like spicy, sweet, sour, fermented. And it's healthy, too," she said. "Actually all these people who are becoming big names with Asian fusion restaurants in the U.S. were my big inspiration when I wanted to create my menu. If only you could have a million items on the menu!" The Bitchin' Food Company is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily, except for Wednesdays. Lee also hopes to offer weekend brunch in time for the Pemberton Music Festival next month. Visit bitchinfoodco.com for more info.
Makes 4 servings
Cooked sticky rice
A package of bean sprouts
2 small size of zucchinis
5 - 7 Shiitake mushrooms
200 grams of thinly sliced rib eye
1 small carrot
3 tbsp of Soy sauce for shitake mushroom and beef
1 ½ tsp of sugar for shitake mushroom and beef
5 cloves of garlic, minced, for bean sprouts and beef
2 tsp of sesame oil for shitake mushrooms and bean sprouts
4 tbsp of hot pepper paste
1 tsp of vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Cook rice. You can use a rice cooker or stainless pot.
2. Rinse your vegetables.
3. Rinse your bean sprouts three times in a coriander, and put them in a pot with three to four cups of water. Add one teaspoon of salt and cook for a quick boil. Do not stir the bean sprouts and let it boil for two minutes. Drain water and mix it with one clove of minced garlic, one teaspoon of sesame oil, and a pinch of salt. Mix it gently with your hand and place it on the platter.
4. Cut two small size zucchinis into thin strips, sprinkle them with a pinch of salt, and let them sit for a couple of minutes to sweat. Gently squeeze out water from zucchini and sauté them in a pan over high heat with a little bit of vegetable oil. Add pinch of salt when they look a little translucent. Seat aside.
5. Cut a carrot into strips, sauté it for 30 seconds and put it on the platter.
6. Slice shitake mushrooms thinly and sauté with one teaspoon of vegetable oil. Add two teaspoons of soy sauce and one to two teaspoons of sugar and stir for two minutes. Add one teaspoon of sesame oil, and put it on platter with rest of vegetables.
7. On a heated pan, put some oil and beef and stir it. Add four cloves of minced garlic, one teaspoon of soy sauce, ½ teaspoon of sugar, a little grounded black pepper, and sesame oil.
8. Prepare eggs sunny side up.
9. Put your rice in a big hollow bowl, and arrange prepared vegetables and meet in order of contrasting colours: beef, carrots, beans sprouts, shitake mushrooms, and finally zucchinis. Place the suny side egg in the middle.
10. Serve it with sesame oil, and hot pepper paste.
11. Mix it up, be vicious with both chopstick and spoon. Enjoy!
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