Chou, a lunch spot that opened in Seoul’s Cheongdam-dong this March, reflects owner Laura Wee’s own approach to eating.
Ever since she was a child, Wee had been troubled by allergies, poor digestion, back problems and pain in her joints.
“I just wanted to feel good,” said Wee, 26, explaining that her main motivation for changing her diet was her health.
After she switched to a vegan and gluten-free diet three years ago, Wee said she felt the difference: “I was flying.”
Now, Wee hopes to share her way of eating at Chou.
Wee explained she decided to focus on a “full-on vegan” and mostly gluten-free menu partly because she wanted to “offer awareness on what veganism and what gluten-free is.”
Going gluten-free, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website, means eliminating food that contains gluten, a protein that is present in wheat, barley, rye and triticale, from one’s diet.
|Chou’s gluten-free buckwheat and raw cacao pancakes topped with orange coconut cream and blueberry compote (Jean Oh/The Korea Herald)|
While people who suffer from celiac disease follow the diet as a form of treatment, gluten-free food has also become popular amongst those in the U.S. who believe it is good for one’s health in general, even if one has not been diagnosed with celiac disease.
In response, many restaurants in American cities like Los Angeles, where Wee lived, offer gluten-free options to diners.
Wee discovered it was harder to find gluten-free food in Seoul when she moved here seven months ago.
“I don’t find it easily accessible,” she said, adding that most of her customers are not clear about what a gluten-free, vegan diet entails.
“I have to explain it,” she said, adding that “they’re very interested.”
A vegan diet essentially requires one to steer clear of all meat, poultry, fish, dairy products and eggs. Add gluten-free food to the equation and that pretty much sums up Chou’s menu.
Working from an open kitchen and serving a maximum crowd of 16, Wee spins out one set meal a day, drawing inspiration from a weekly ingredient.
Avocados were the main ingredient for one week, chickpeas the star for another week, and mung bean sprouts were the main attraction last week.
Wee kicked off chickpea week with a from-scratch, gluten-free, turmeric-infused hummus, pairing it with a tabbouleh that she initially crafted from fluffy, albeit not-gluten-free bulgur wheat couscous before switching over to gluten-free quinoa.
During another week, she whipped up a vibrant salad of carrots, cherry tomatoes, red onions, sliced almonds and sesame seeds with a tamari soy and yuzu ponzu dressing, topping the whole thing off with slices of avocado.
|Chou’s vibrant salad of avocado, carrots, cherry tomatoes, red onions, sliced almonds and sesame seeds with yuzu ponzu and tamari soy dressing|
Though not everything is gluten-free, the vast majority of the food at Chou is, according to Wee, including treats like her gluten-free pancakes.
To make them, Wee crafts a batter out of raw cacao powder, 100 percent buckwheat flour and coconut oil.
She then layers the pancakes with orange oil-infused plain coconut cream and raw cacao coconut cream, dusting some raw cacao powder over it and topping the whole stack with blueberry compote.
Not traditional, fluffy buttermilk flapjacks, these gluten-free pancakes are grainy and dense in texture, tasting like classic dark orange chocolate, deep and rich with a hint of citrus.
Next up? “An open-faced banh mi,” said Wee, who will also make her gluten-free pancakes for customers who request them this coming week. Chou
●48 Hakdong-no 77-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (02) 512-5710
●Open Mondays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed on weekends
●Lunch costs 7,000 won to 10,000 won
By Jean Oh (email@example.com)