Wildly popular Seattle Korean pop-up Ohsun Banchan is opening a Pioneer Square deli and cafe in October serving noodles, soups, stewed meats — and what will probably be the largest variety of banchan at any Korean restaurant in the Seattle area.
Ohsun Banchan owner Sarah Upshaw, a Korean cookbook author and blogger, started doing Korean food pop-ups under the name Jinjia last year. Though she’d been working in Nordstrom’s photo department for 10 years, she soon realized she wanted to work in food full time. (Previously, she’d written a Korean barbecue cookbook and maintained a Korean food blog called Kimchi Halfie, a reference to her half-Korean identity, while working at Nordstrom.) That’s when she rebranded and turned her focus to banchan, the side dishes served with rice in most Korean meals, often kimchi or other pickled vegetables.
Though Upshaw says she’s happy to see Korean barbecue and hot dogs become popular in the U.S. in the last few years, she wants diners to learn more about other sides of Korean cuisine. She even wants to help introduce people who are fairly familiar with Korean cuisine to new types of banchan.
“Whatever’s in season, we’ll either pickle it or make it into kimchi,” Upshaw says. “We’re so excited to show people things besides the regular Napa cabbage spicy kimchi.”
A highlight of the space, just a few blocks north of Lumen Field at 221 1st Avenue South, will be a deli case displaying about 10 banchan every day. Beyond rotating seasonal kimchi (think garlic scapes in late spring and apples in the fall), there will be some standbys including a vegan Napa cabbage kimchi. She’ll also serve different soups, like kimchi jjigae, bean sprout soup, and seaweed soup, every day. “A standard Korean meal is a bowl of rice, three to five banchan, then a bowl of soup,” she says.
The lunch menu will include noodle bowls with fresh vegetables. And though she’s trying to keep the menu at least 50 percent vegan, there will be specials with dishes like galbijjim (braised short ribs), bo ssam (sliced pork with fresh herbs and vegetables), and stewed pork belly. Pajeon (Korean pancake) may also be introduced in the future, depending on kitchen capacity. Upshaw says she’ll take occasional catering requests for special dishes as well.
At night, Upshaw sees the space turning into somewhere people can drink local gluten-free beer, cider, wine, and gluten-free soju, while she serves Korean snacks and dinner dishes.
The airy deli space, which was formerly a Quiznos and a kebab spot, will have around 35 indoor seats, with a bar next to the kitchen for those who want to chat with the staff. Upshaw is also building a patio area on 1st Avenue. The service will be fast-casual.
Upshaw says that her focus on vegan dishes often makes people question the authenticity of her cooking. At the same time, being a half-Korean woman, she says she’s been told all her life that she’s “really not that Korean.” But she likes to remind people of Korea’s vegan Buddhist culinary tradition, in which monks have been making kimchi without shrimp or fish sauce for centuries. Also, Korean cooking is diverse, and she says people often equate tradition with their mothers’ cooking, even when their moms use modern ingredients like Sprite to marinate their meats.
“If you ask me, it’s Korean food,” Upshaw says.
While the food at Ohsun Banchan will be authentic to Upshaw’s upbringing and ancestry, she's taking care to get the kitchen certified gluten-free, and using only gluten-free ingredients, because she wanted to create a safe space for her gluten-free friends to dine out and enjoy Korean food. “I want this to be somewhere people can come and feel comfort,” she says — the reason she named the business after her grandmother’s first name. “Come in, ask questions, talk to us,” Upshaw says.
While she works on getting the deli open, Upshaw is still doing Ohsun Banchan pop-ups, albeit a little less often. Keep updated on Ohsun Banchan’s Instagram.