I met Chef Esther Choi for the first time at the pool at McCarren in New York City a couple of months ago. It was a sunny Monday afternoon in Brooklyn with my friend (and Masterchef Korea finalist) Diane Kang (@akoreangirleats) and restaurant PR + social media genius Jean Lee (@jeaniusnyc). Let's get real though. Who gets to eat ice cream with the chef and owner of mŏkbar on a Monday afternoon at a pool party? Thanks to Diane, I totally lucked out. I sat down for lunch at mokbar with Chef Esther a few weeks later and we talked about everything from Korean food, fruit teas, boys, relationships, social media and building brands.
Chef Esther's love for Korean food and cooking stemmed from her grandmother at a very young age: “I grew up cooking with my grandma - she taught me everything I know about food. How to love every ingredient, appreciate and respect the process and making of every dish." After training at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), Chef Esther's culinary experience ranged from working at ilili, La Esquina and Food Network in New York before creating mokbar.
For anyone who may not be familiar, mŏkbar is a ramen shop in Chelsea Market with special seasonal menus that combine traditional Korean soups with fresh Japanese ramen noodles that creates an unique noodle experience. The concept is to have a small bar around the open kitchen for diners to sit and engage with the chefs while enjoying their freshly prepared meals.
Lunch with Chef Ester started off with a round of mokbar's strawberry yuzu and ginger plum iced teas. Yuzu is a citrus fruit and plant originating in East Asia. It is believed to be a hybrid of sour mandarin and Ichang papeda and in Korea, Yujacha or yuja cha is a traditional Korean herbal tea made from the citrus fruit yuzu. Yuja (유자) fruit is thinly sliced with its peel and combined with honey or sugar, prepared as fruit preserves or marmalade. I'm quite obsessed with yuzu, so when I spotted the strawberry yuzu iced tea on the summer menu at mokbar, I knew I had to try it. And it definitely did not disappoint.
Aside from delicious iced teas and the best Korean ramen, mŏkbar offers so much more. For starters, I tried the calamari salad and unfermented kimchi (made in house at mokbar) was out of this world. The calamari salad is a combination of fresh ceviche and fried calamari, pear slaw, with spicy gochujang chili dressing. While most of us will probably be familiar with traditional fermented napa cabbage kimchi, I personally find the unfermented version to have a lighter, more refreshing taste for the summer.
Now for my favourite noodle dish... Based on Konguksu, a noodle dish served in a cold soy milk broth most often enjoyed on hot summer days, mokbar's version of the cold noodle dish is created with a soybean and tofu broth, topped with cucumber, roasted tomato, pine nuts and sesame seeds. I also personally think the ice cubes give the dish a great aesthetic touch! It might be too cold to eat this now, but I promise there are plenty of hot noodle options at mokbar!
Another popular dish at is tteokboki, the classic Korean spicy rice cake dish. Chef Esther adds her own twist on the traditional dish in her version of tteokboki made skinny brown butter rice cakes, white kimchi and poached egg. And it's absolutely divine. I left New York two months ago to do some travelling around South Africa and Europe and the one thing I honestly miss about NYC is seriously THE FOOD. Seriously guys, there is nowhere else in the world where you will find so many amazing things to eat in one place... So if you're in New York City right now, you need to go out and do some serious eating.
Special thanks to Chef Esther and mokbar for this special experience!