Jinah Chang bigo the base is nice
Koreans have enjoyed vegetables in more ways than any other people. They don’t stop at using them in salads or as a garnish for meat dishes, but wonder how you can really enjoy these delicious ingredients. The variety of vegetable recipes Koreans have had for centuries is evident: they enjoy them by boiling, pan-frying, pickling, frying as chips, stir-frying, frying, steaming and as a wrap or a fresh salad mixed with spices.
We visited a restaurant that reinterprets Korean vegetable dishes with a modern twist. Decorated with a simple exterior with floor-to-ceiling windows and wooden finishes as well as wooden furniture to highlight the colorful ingredients, this is Base Is Nice. The one-man restaurant is run by owner Jinah Chang, who manages everything from interior design and store operations to menu planning and cooking. The menu changes every month to deliver the value of vegetables through plant-based meals and juices.
Chang creates and serves “fine” dishes “based” on her own experiences with food she enjoyed in her hometown on Jeju Island (Korea’s largest island), as well as Tokyo and New York where she lived for many years. She reinterprets not only local dishes, but also regional dietary cultures and ingredients in a Korean way to present a concise, well-balanced and vegetarian-centric diet with Base Is Nice.
Chang is a planner. She has been responsible for several roles within the food industry, from naming restaurants and creating a brand identity and story, to visual, graphic and spatial design, menu planning, quality control of food service, as well as sales analysis and strategy setting. Now she even cooks for Base Is Nice. “The chef’s title is not for me. I just added cooking to what I’ve been doing as a planner. “A person who delivers a message based on vegetables” would be more suitable.” She cooks as part of the effort to convey her message. Planning, operations and cooking are intertwined in a one-person restaurant, so these three roles are only one for her.
While veganism is attracting global attention, it is not a new concept for Koreans, as they have always been a veggie-friendly people. Koreans live in mountainous areas and often cook with wild vegetables and herbs picked from the nearby hills. And they know how to best prepare each ingredient obtained from nature in different ways. Vegetables have certainly established a strong position on Korean dining tables.
“Tired of meat-centric Western diets, I rediscovered the beauty of Korean vegetables when I returned to Korea. Aromatic, beautiful and rich in flavor and texture, you can never experience this type of vegetable anywhere else.”
As soon as Chang rediscovered Korean vegetables, she embarked on a new dining table project starring them. She presented vegetables in their most attractive ways and wanted to bring them closer to more people.
The beauty of vegetables lies in their colors, which come in a wider variety than any other ingredient. For Chang, color is taste. She prepares vegetables in a simple way to present their original colors as they are. Everything is intact, without man-made color. Vegetables are the most readily available, common ingredients.
– The climate has changed and agricultural techniques have developed in modern society. Some vegetables even grow all year round. So you can easily pick up popular vegetables at a reasonable price in nearby grocery stores.”
“This is the first time I eat only vegetables. I never thought lotus root would be delicious.”
These are common comments from customers of Base Is Nice. They rarely leave food behind, meaning they didn’t tire of the plant-heavy meal. Vegetable dishes go beyond the limits of unpleasant taste and similarity that animal proteins have. Chang cooks to erase prejudices against vegetables, and it only takes one good experience before people accept them.
We must respect ingredients that become part of our body. I believe that our efforts to truly explore the value of each vegetable ingredient will be one way of showing such respect.”
Cooking is an art form. As in art, architecture, music and literature, cooking involves the pursuit of beauty. However, just cooking can be appreciated in another dimension: it becomes a part of you as soon as you experience it. A plant-based diet becomes your dietary culture and lifestyle, so those who prepare food affect the everyday lives of others and their bodies. This is why chefs must take care of themselves, others and the earth.
“I can have mandu one after the other, if they are as healthy as these. It’s good that the original taste of the vegetables is brought out, rather than just using it as a meat alternative.”
bibigo also makes food with vegetables in the main role. PlantTable Mandu is made from vegetables and vegetable oil without meat. Frozen mandu is often referred to as “emergency food” in Korea as always necessary food that people stock up in a freezer that is easily accessible and can be used as a meal. And bibigo’s PlanTable Mandu makes plant-based foods readily available, so those seeking Korean vegetable dishes can enjoy them easily.
“Food that is quick and easy makes it more friendly to modern lifestyles. Fast food is consumed by more people when the preparation process is easy to follow, which is why bibigo’s vegetable food is very welcome.” The closer you are to vegetables, the better off you are. It benefits both you and the earth. And bibigo’s PlanTable Mandu will benefit the world by sharing Korean flavors starring vegetables.
Credits Photographer Injun Park Videographer Saccharin Film Contributing Editor Seohyung Jo