• Berlin
  • Pioneer and survivor: YamYam’s Sumi Ha


Pioneer and survivor: YamYam’s Sumi Ha

ALLTAG HEROES! When Sumi Ha opened her Korean eatery on Alte Schönhauser Straße 10 years ago, bibimbap was a novelty on the Mitte-set lunch menu. In the Corona crisis, she keeps dishing it out, to-go style.

Image for Pioneer and survivor: YamYam's Sumi Ha

Sumi Ha put Korean cuisine on the Mitte menu. (Photo: Iryna Sylinnyk)

When it comes to contemporary Korean cuisine, pioneering credits go to Sumi Ha who opened Yam Yam on June 15, 2009, beating Görli’s Kimchi Princess to the finish line by two weeks. An instant success, the Alte Schönhauser Straße restaurant brought “bibimbap” to Berliners’ dining habits and their vocabulary, turning the rice dish into a staple of the Mitte-set diet. The only child of a Korean single mother who came to Germany as a nurse, Sumi grew up in Frankfurt speaking German in a multikulti environment. She moved to Berlin in 2000, and dabbled in street fashion (she ran a fair and a designer’s showroom) before opening YamYam in the very location where she’d run a clothing boutique for five years.

Trendy but unpretentious, YamYam owes its success to a smart menu that offers the gamut of Korean classics (save BBQ: “I don’t like leaving restaurants reeking of the food you just ate!“), that Sumi Ha updates regularly to suit her own tastes and concerns (like more vegan, “let’s face it: it’s healthier and better for the environment“). Add to that, the house creative touches like a full menu of home-mixed cocktails that include a killer “Magic Makgeolli”. The area’s gentification has meant sky-rocketing rents, but Sumi has managed to hold on to an ever-increasing clientele  – a healthy mix of neighbours, Mitte creatives and foreign visitors on a fashion shopping spree. Two years ago YamYam even expanded to include an adjacent dining room.

[Keep up-to-date with our weekly quarantine newsletter.]

Then the Corona epidemic broke out. Forced to shut the restaurant and let her employees go, Sumi is fighting for survival with renewed resourcefulness. She’s adapted her logistics to suit the times: an updated menu that’s both easy to take away and easy on the wallet. She’s also working on finding a suitable delivery provider (less “shamlessly profiteering and ruthless” than the current monopolist). For the time being she’s holding the fort, handing out meals to mostly regulars, thankful to bring some Korean spice back to their confined lives.

YamYam | Alte Schönhauser Straße 6, Mitte, Mon-Sun 12-20