In America, we are used to our particular brand of pop culture effortlessly flooding its way into other countries. For much of the last century, everything from rock ’n’ roll and Levi’s jeans to Coca-Cola have caught on like wildfire in nations as far away as Australia, Japan and Korea, but up until recently the same could not be said in reverse. But the times they are a-changin. Over the last decade, Korean pop culture (or Kpop for short) has slowly begun to make its mark in America — and in 2019, it’s hotter than ever with Korean boy bands such as BTS blowing up the charts on a level not seen since The Beatles. With all the hysteria in the air it was only a matter of time before the trend reached South Jersey. And what better place to set up shop than on the boardwalk in Ocean City? That is where an eatery known as KPOP recently opened.
“I named it after the idea of Korean pop,” says Mimi Yim, owner of KPOP. Yim took note of the emerging popularity of Korean culture and thought it would be a good match thematically for her restaurant, a brightly colored casual dining spot which opened its doors last August. As of now the décor is minimal, with bright pinks, blues and yellows helping it stand out among the parade of clothing shops, pizzerias and arcades. But Yim says plans are in the works to change that. “I have some posters of some of the Korean pop groups like BTS that I want to put up on the wall, but I need someone to help me,” she jokes. Yim grew up in South Korea, but has been in the United States for more than 40 years. Still, she seems excited to see the culture she was raised in making a splash here, particularly the boy band BTS, which has blown up bigger than anyone expected. “BTS is so popular,” she says “They can dance, they can sing — they can even rap!”
KPOP touts itself as “Korean fusion BBQ.” While it’s not immediately clear what that means, what is clear is that this spot is providing vacationers with anything but traditional boardwalk grub. And Yim says customer response has been even better than expected.
Kimchi, rice bowls and Japchea (a noodle stir fry) can all be found on the menu — a far cry from the jumbo pizza slices and cheesesteaks you might typically see at most eateries along the boardwalk.
The tuna poke bowl ($11.99) starts with fresh chunks of tuna which get marinated in their special KPOP sauce, then rice, green onions, and a spring mix are added and topped with house dressing to create one of the lightest dishes you will find in this family resort town. This dish is also available in a salmon variety.
KPOP offers three types of rice bowls ($9.99 each). The chicken rice bowl is made with spicy chicken, carrots, onion and zucchini. The pork version is the same, but swaps out the protein, while the beef variety eliminates the zucchini altogether.
Another favorite that has gained popularity in recent years are Korean-style chicken wings, which stray from their spicy American counterparts. Instead, what makes them stand out is a particularly crispy breading. KPOP serves three varieties of wings, soy garlic, spicy Korean and honey sesame ($7.99 for five; $12.99 for 10). “The spicy Korean wing is our most popular of all,” says Yim.
Those looking for a quick bite might wanna try the Mandoo Korean dumplings, which come in a choice of beef, pork or chicken and are served with a choice of chives or mixed vegetables.
But what about dessert?
“We just bought a special ice machine that makes a Korean-style ice. It’s like snow,” Yim says. While the Korean shave ice is not currently available, look for it to “pop” up very soon.