Fee-fi-fo-fum! Jack and the Beanstalk in Busan a real treat
Take a gander down any street or narrow passageway in Korea and almost certainly a beef, chicken or pork restaurant can be found overflowing with bulgogi and samgyeopsal. Korean BBQ joints, chimaek (chicken and beer) bars and gyeopsal eateries are enormously popular and line both the bustling backstreets and popular areas of Busan. If the number of meat-based restaurants in the country stands as any indication, the favorite foods seem to be varied meats, with sides of meat, served over meat.
Historically, Korean cuisine has revolved around rice, which almost always arrives accompanied with cooked or fermented side dishes and spicy, meat-based stews. But as Koreans have grown up in a more stable economic climate, meat has taken the foreground, as have many Western-style Foods. Cravings for traditional Korean (veg-laden) comfort foods now face stiff competition from the numerous meat-centric restaurants that have opened, as well as places that put emphasis on nonnative specialties like meat and cream pastas, steaks, burgers and fried chicken.
Sophia Kim, the proprietor of Jack and the Beanstalk in Namcheon, Busan, however, runs her restaurant with the polar opposite approach: no meat whatsoever. “Jack and the Beanstalk is a vegan restaurant … completely different from other conventional Korean restaurants,” says Kim.
In addition to sidestepping the exponentially popular meat dishes seen elsewhere, at Jack and the Beanstalk, Kim also steers clear of processed foods, touting organic, eco-friendly and genetically unaltered ingredients.
“Vegetables, fruits and brown rice I purchase from certified organic farms; whole grain breads are also from Tojong Sikpum, a certified organic source; soy products are from an internationally certified supplier,” Kim says. “‘Certified organic’ means they are passed by the Korean government, as well as an independent customer group’s inspection.”
The restaurant owner is passionately committed to her lifestyle and livelihood as a chef, often traveling to Seoul to visit other vegan restaurants, study recipes and ingredients, and broaden her approach. In the process of perfecting her veggie burger sauce, for example, she consumed multiple burgers a day for taste testing.
“In the beginning, I learned dishes from a vegan chef who ran Loving Hut in Haeundae, as well as through books and on the Internet. But the greatest help in developing my vegan cooking has been my 13 years of (nonvegan) restaurant experience, because I can apply it to my vegan cooking even though the ingredients are completely different. My sense for cooking has helped to develop Korean-style vegan dishes.”
For Kim personally, the shift to veganism was primarily for health. “I went vegan due to a health problem, but I came to know that being vegan was an amazing thing, not only for health reasons but for environmental and lifestyle reasons too. I discovered the value of it; it’s priceless.”
In a country where even vegetarianism is largely alien, Kim’s family has been very understanding of her decision to open this unique business venture. “My family members have been great supporters for me, although they’re not vegetarians or vegans. My partner especially has cheered me on and assisted me financially, because (the restaurant) hasn’t had much profit.”
Nevertheless, customers are satisfied. Kim has an American patron who regularly travels from Yangsan to Namcheon — almost an hour and a half in transit — to eat from her menu, which includes a bean cutlet much like the Japanese tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet with gravy); a veggie burger piled on with vegetables, her perfect sauce and an apple slice; and even vegan pizza with cheese made from cashews. Her repeat customers have been local as well as foreign, and presumably, they have promoted her restaurant by word of mouth as she’s seen a big increase in her number of customers lately.
“Our customers love the dishes I’ve been making. I think it’s a natural response (to the cooking style) because I make each dish with sincerity. I’ve committed to using organic, eco-friendly products, regardless of cost.”
Kim stands as a singularity with her attention to detail and her creativity. Many vegan-oriented restaurants use frozen or processed items, but at Jack and the Beanstalk, each dish is created from the ground up with clean ingredients and delicate recipes honed over time. “I have a responsibility. … It’s not just to serve healthy foods to customers, but more than that: I consider myself a vegan food artist.”
Jack and the Beanstalk is on Haeundae Beach in Busan. Walk out of exit 5 of Haeundae Station and go straight down the street for five minutes, then take the third left. Turn right down Haeundaehaebyeon-ro 298 beon-gil and walk to the end of the street. Jack and the Beanstalk is on the first floor of the building on your right.