BUSAN, South Korea — As the streets of PNU flood during an especially rainy Sunday afternoon, several Busan foodies cozy up with warm bowls of tomyam soup in a quaint café right off of Chicken Street. The atmosphere is welcoming and friendly at the small, bookish Matahari restaurant, but it’s no secret that there’s only one reason any have braved the weather – Thai food. Behind the counter stands Thai BoonChic’s creator Ji Hyun “Alicia” Park, quietly cooking up a storm of a different variety.
Ji Hyun has been cooking Thai food unofficially for the last 10 years. But it was last summer that she got a taste of Busan’s food scene at a Cuban-style restaurant in KSU, creating recipes, tasting dishes and managing the staff while she was on vacation from her university job in China. Her time there inspired her to find a way to share her love of food with the world. Naturally, she packed up her life and moved to Thailand to immerse herself in the culture and find the real essence of Thai cooking. Her culinary creations reflect her philosophy that “food is a soundless language,” making it easy to fall in love with Thai BoonChic.
Ji Hyun’s passion for cooking can be tasted in every one of her dishes, from her traditional Pad Thai to her fresh spring rolls to her soul-soothing massaman curry. Since early May, Thai BoonChic has slowly been invading the minds and hearts of PNU area residents. Using true Thai ingredients, Ji Hyun brings a stunningly authentic taste of Thailand to Korea.
Every dish can be served meat-free, giving Busan another delicious option for our vegetarian population. For the meat lovers, the Pat Kapao Moo Saap is a crowd favourite – ground pork, thai chili paste and fresh holy basil served with rice. The flavours build with every bite, creating a sweet Thai heat that lingers long after you’ve cleaned your plate.
Another staple is the traditional green curry, made with lemongrass, galangal, fresh sweet basil and green curry paste. Its warm, rich flavours and aromas leave you feeling closer to Bangkok than Busan. The tomyam soup, also known colloquially as ‘hangover soup’, is often exactly what you are craving on a Sunday afternoon. This hot and sour soup has tamarind, chili paste, lemon grass, galangal, kiffir leaves and shrimp – everything you need to energize and revitalize yourself. The menu is also always evolving as new inspiration guides Ji Hyun in her edible adventures. Recent additions include a mango sticky rice dessert and a vegetarian Papaya salad with noodles or sticky rice.
Any way you look at it, Thai BoonChic is a force to be reckoned with and well worth checking out on the weekends.
Join Ji Hyun at Matahari café, located near Crossroads and Soul Train, just opposite Red Bottle in PNU, every Saturday from 12-8 and Sunday from 12-5. You can find her on facebook at www.facebook.com/ThaiBoonChic. Reservations are encouraged, but not necessary.
Photos by FLOAT. All rights reserved.