Dinner at Nokni- A Unique Korean Pop-Up
I’ve alwyas loved Korean food. Pyeongchang Tofu House, my favorite Korean restaurant in Oakland, is just down the street from my house and I enjoy their steaming hot tofu soups and bibimbaps religiously.
After I finished high school a few years ago my brother and me got on a plane headed to South Korea, with a quick layover at Tokyo's Haneda Airport where we inhaled the best sushi I've eaten. For nearly a month we scoured Seoul, South Korea's largest city looking to eat every specialty, find every street vendor, and dive into every bowl of soup. Seoul is a big city and we left feeling like we’d only seen a tiny sliver of the country.
All this to say, I was so excited when I heard Julya Shin was launching Nokni, a Korean pop-up series in Oakland. Julya has up until recently been the head chef at Pizzaiolo in Oakland and when I trained there she was my idol, really she still is. She’s one of the best chefs I’ve ever met, a complete badass, and I’ve watched her simultaneously open an oven door with her foot, carry two sheet pans full of meat across a kitchen, and check if fish fillets are cooked. She doesn’t mess around. After 9+ years of allegiance to Pizzaiolo and Charlie’s other restaurants, Julya has decided to dig into her Korean background and draw on the flavors and ingredients of her childhood.
But the spice and flavor that Julya brings to her new venture are nothing like any Korean food I’ve seen or eaten in the Bay Area or in Korea. All the flavors are distinctly Korean, but she’s kept a large part of her California-Italian flavor palate on the table, so to speak.
Tteokbokki are the dirty water hotdogs of Korea. Chewy flavorless chunks of rice cakes are boiled at street side stands in a sweet and sometimes numbingly spicy broth. While the snack wasn’t something I warmed up to much while I was traveling, I seemed to eat it a lot. Every day. It’s one of two main dishes on Julya’s menu. But her rice cakes don't swim in a pool of bright red chili paste and sugar. They're adorned with porcini mushrooms, charred shishito peppers, and amaranth. There's no sauce at all, and they’re crispy and salty instead of sweet. Mind, blown. Soft homemade tofu in a sharp soy-based sauce, lightly fermented green tomatoes with slices of radish, and sweet chilled eggplant with cherry tomatoes make up the perfect banchan (assorted Korean side dishes). I hope this pop-up continues to get the response it deserves, and I for one can’t wait to sit down for a more complete meal when Julya opens up a brick and mortar location.
To keep track of the pop-up, follow its instagram @nokni_oakland or check out the website, http://www.nokni.com