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Top Chef: Sumi Ha

Twice a month, we shine a spotlight on our favourite chefs in Berlin. This week: Sumi Ha of Korean restuarant Yamyam in Mitte.

Image for Top Chef: Sumi Ha
Photo by Marie Yako

It’s hard to imagine now, but back in 2009, hip Berliners didn’t eat bibimbap for lunch. Bonn-born Sumi Ha changed that with her Mitte restaurant Yamyam, a modern Korean kitchen serving a fresh mix of rice bowls, soups and dumplings, replete with kimchi and a bevy of pickled vegetables – not to mention that famous bibimbap, which has crowds clamouring in on a daily basis. The clothing store owner turned chef let us in the secret ingredient behind Yamyam’s dishes.

What type of food do you cook?

I cook classic Korean food – it’s inspired a lot by my parents, who moved to Bonn from Korea in the 1970s.

What is your most popular item?

Obviously our bibimbap is really popular, which is a Korean mixed rice dish. We prepare all of the fresh and pickled vegetables individually, which takes a lot of time, but makes the final dish really delicious. Bibimbap started as a way to use all of your leftovers, so if you’re making it at home, you can just take whatever leftovers and vegetables that you have, and combine it with some red pepper sauce, some meat or fish, and egg – I like to use two.

What’s the food trend you hate the most?

It’s already sort of gone, but the bubble tea trend was really annoying. But right now, all the burgers! Way too many burgers. I’m generally happy with the development of food in Berlin right now, though. Places like Markthalle IX help the food scene be more diverse and have more niches that you wouldn’t have heard about unless you try them. I’m also excited to see a big surge in African food in Berlin.

A cooking tip?

Use Korean sesame oil! It’s roasted, and has a rich, deep flavour – it’s actually in about half of all Korean dishes, but I use it in pretty much everything. I even put a few drops in when I’m making Bolognese sauce! But use it carefully – it’s very strong.

A dining tip (other than your own restaurant)?

I just tried out this Italian restaurant on Lausitzer Platz called Nudo and really liked it. They do set courses, three or four, but it’s pretty affordable as far the prix-fixe places go.

Best thing about owning a restaurant in Berlin?

Well, it definitely comes with its disadvantages, but the benefits outweigh them. I used to own a fashion store before Yamyam, and the biggest change is that with a restaurant, you’re making something that people actually want – you don’t have to convince people to buy what you’re selling when they walk in. Even if it’s just for a half an hour or so, we’re making people really happy, and I love that.

The worst?

The stress! Mainly, of coordinating all of the people that work at a restaurant – the people who work with me are great, but every day something happens that I need to attend to. Thankfully, though, the guests are usually pretty uncomplicated.