Winter break is the perfect time to visit the restaurants of East Lansing, so last week, my friends and I took advantage of relaxed schedules and (relatively) ample parking and visited BAPS, a new-to-me Korean restaurant on the Buffalo Wild Wings block of Albert Avenue. I had already scoped out the menu online, but upon arrival, an unexpected lunch special menu threw me for a loop.
As a deeply budget-conscious person, lunch specials are almost impossible to resist. My ambitions to try something new left the building when I saw I could get a long-standing favorite, bibimbap, for $9. Bibimbap is a well-balanced dish consisting, in this instance, of marinated beef and stir-fried greens, carrots and zucchini served over rice and topped with a fried egg. You then add some of the kimchi served alongside, a healthy dose of gochujang (Korean chili paste) and proceed with enjoying myriad combinations of flavors and textures in every bite. BAPS’ bibimbap was a satisfying iteration of the Korean menu classic.
I kept finding myself bypassing my entrée, though, to get more of the dish my companions and I ordered to share: the japchae. If I’ve had this dish before, it certainly wasn’t memorable, but going forward, BAPS’ is the one that will be filed under japchae in my flavor Rolodex. It is composed of glass, or cellophane, noodles, which are made from sweet potato starch. The texture of the noodles is difficult to describe, and the best and most fitting adjective I can summon is “sproingy” — dangling and bouncing around from the end of your chopsticks, practically making a cartoonish spring sound effect. They have an addictive texture to which the delicious sauce clings, tasting of flame-broiled beef, green onions, sesame oil and sweet soy. My favorite element, though, was the wood ear mushrooms, which were toothsome, meaty and even more delectable than the shreds of actual meat. Fun fact: they are called that because they look like crinkly, little brown ears!
Though japchae is listed on the menu as an appetizer, it could definitely serve as a light lunch — one that leaves your senses stimulated and your sense of wonder piqued. I also enjoyed the house lemonade, a fizzy concoction that’s not too sweet but more honeyed than sour, filled with preserved lemon rinds. A meal of unexpected textures and preparations, it was the perfect way to begin a new year — hopefully, one brimming with even more delightful culinary discoveries.
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