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After 17 years in Makawao, family opens Korean restaurant in Paia

Bim bim bap with beef is cooked in a stone pot with an abundance of accoutrements such as: kimchi, carrot, spinach, green onion, sesame seeds and a fried egg. AYA GANZ photos

Bap is the name of a new sushi and Korean restaurant in Paia town created by the Kim family.

Bap is also a Korean word that essentially means, cooked rice. Rice is the fundamental ingredient on which most Korean dishes are prepared. As a turn of phrase, bap means, “have you eaten?,” rice being the staple food of Asian cuisine. On a deeper level, bap is not merely a dietary staple, it also represents sharing, strength, love and friendship. A mother expresses love for her children by making them warm rice. Rice has literally fed our world, and is the third largest agricultural commodity after sugarcane and maize.

I first enjoyed food from the Kim family’s kitchen in their original location on Baldwin Avenue in Makawao. It was one of my favorite spots on island. I was devastated when they closed. I had heard rumors that they would be reopening in Paia, but you know how that goes. People say they will be reopening and never do. Friends told me to go check out a new sushi place in Paia called Bap. I adore sushi, so I was in! Little did I know, it was my favorite spot revamped, renamed and open again! I was thrilled.

Bap’s business is a real family affair. Ben Kim, his wife, Jeong Kim and their children, served sushi in their old Makawao location for 17 years. They closed last September in order to focus their collective attention and energy on opening their family’s first bakery. Their Hoi Hoi Hawaiian Bakery in Wailuku is a traditional Asian bakery, located at 52 Maui Lani Parkway. The bakery serves up fresh-baked breads, Asian-style desserts like adzuki bread, donuts, mochi and cakes.

The bakery is run by Ben’s sons, Alex and Jongrak Kim. After the bakery was a go, the Kims went on to open Bap at 71 Baldwin Ave. in Paia. Ninety percent of the Kim’s original Upcountry clientele, were regulars. Now these loyal fans drive “down the hill” to Bap in Paia town. The new restaurant is run by their daughter, Joyce Kim, a graduate of King Kekaulike High School. Her mother, father and uncle make up the core team at Bap. The father is behind the bar, creating the stunning sushi portion of the menu while the mother is in the kitchen, holding down the authentic, Korean side of the menu alongside her brother-in-law, Woo Chang.

The rainbow roll is a classic California roll wrapped with tuna, hamachi, salmon, avocado, topped with tobiko caviar, scallions and sesame seeds.

I went with a large party to explore Bap’s dinner menu. I like to eat Asian food “family style” and both the sushi bar menu and kitchen menu are wonderful for sharing.

Having two menus to choose from was heaven! I began my meal with a fresh lemonade, and launched into fried pork gyoza for starters. These delectable “pockets of joy” went perfectly with Bap’s house made kimchi, which was spicy and crisp. Kimchi, one of the healthiest foods in the world, is a Korean staple made from fermented cabbage. A classic that complements every Bap dish. I love all things fermented. Thank you Bap! Then I ordered their green onion pancake. This traditional Korean pancake, which I know as pan jun, was spot-on; light, delicately fried and flawless. Served with a soy dipping sauce, it is also perfect for dipping in chili sauce.

Next, I chose bim bim bap. This dish is the quintessential Korean dish; steamed rice, cooked in a stone pot with an abundance of accoutrements such as: kimchi, carrot, spinach, green onion, sesame seeds and a fried egg. I added mouth-watering beef to mine. The pot is piping hot and still cooking when served. I also ordered sushi, the rainbow roll, which was absolutely stunning. A classic California Roll wrapped with tuna, hamachi, salmon, avocado, topped with tobiko caviar, scallions and sesame seeds. Beautiful, really beautiful. This food had me missing New York City, which is where I discovered Korean and Japanese food. Unlike any other Asian food, Korean food is almost indescribable. Its flavor is very specific due to their masterful talent for preserving food by pickling, fermenting, salting and spicing.

At this time, Bap only serves dinner, but Joyce told me that they hope to serve brunch in the future. Looking forward to that! It really makes me happy when I see family businesses succeed. The Kim family has the talent, dedication and stamina to make their passion into success. Thank you for sharing your love of sushi and Korean food with us! And for making me, my baby girl and my friends feel as though we were in your home.

* Bap, 71 Baldwin Ave., Paia. Open for dinner. Phone (808) 446-3629.

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