If you follow the A Creative DC project on Instagram, you're well aware that we love to post a F O O D image. Why? One, the "culinary arts" account for $2.5 billion dollars of the District's measurable creative economy, and we credit the insane growth rate/influx of amazing D.C. restaurants over the last five-years-or-so with boosting the other creative economy categories as well. Two, whether you're gathering at the bar or around your table at home, food encourages community + connection. We're all for it. And three? We're dead-set on expanding the definition of what it means to be "a" creative, in this city and at large. If you've made your passion project your full-time job, you're completely deserving of wild applause – but so is everyone who uses the time that's theirs in pursuit of making something they're wildly into, whether it's a mural or a meal. And you know – especially a meal.
But let's be real: this is D.C. The work ethics are bonkers and the drive is high – we're always so excited to come across side projects that are presented as beautifully as main squeezes, but never surprised. And this is where we'll introduce Sonja Bradfield, the food blogger behind the v. gorgeous Ginger & Toasted Sesame, and we're also sharing her recipe for Korean Spicy Cold Noodles, or Bibimguksu. Y E S .
Name/Age/How long have you lived in the DMV? Sonja Bradfield, 30. I was born in D.C. but grew up in Seoul, Korea, Atlanta, GA and Vienna, VA. I currently live in Arlington and I hope to move into D.C. by the end of the year!
Ginger & Toasted Sesame! We love that it came from wanting to reconnect with the time you spent in Seoul. Can you talk a little but about how your blog got started? In the spring of 2013 I moved back to this area after living in Seoul, Korea for five years. I had made a life there but felt a need to go home. Upon returning to the States, the culture shock and homesickness for Seoul really hit me. I was living back at home with my parents, searching for a job in D.C., and feeling a bit lost. This blog kind of grew out of a need to remember the experiences and meals I had in Seoul and my travels through Asia. I left the D.C. area after I graduated high school and the city had really changed in that time. I really started rediscovering D.C. and I still feel like there is so much more to learn about my hometown. I guess the blog is kind of a mix of yearning for Seoul and embracing my new home in D.C.
I think my style is still evolving and I'm always trying to learn new things in terms of photography. So far I know that I enjoy clean and natural styling. Of course I try to compose my photos to make it look nice, but I'm not going to put completely irrelevant, random props all over the place. I think the point of a food blog is to not only be expressive of your aesthetic but to also inspire people to actually cook and try new things. If things are too perfectly presented it might be off-putting in that it becomes intimidating and abstract.
We dug through your archives – your photography, visuals, and design all started off strong. Is your style still evolving? When I started my blog I did a LOT of research. I read everything I could about food blogging, food photography, and just read every food blog I found inspiring. I also took a food writing course a month before I started my blog and I felt really charged to tell stories. So, I feel like I was luck in that I found the right resources when I started. However, there are still things in my archives that I cringe over!
Schedule, post consistently, and keep improving your workflow.The most important thing I’ve done is build relationships with fellow bloggers. It’s amazing how many opportunities I got through a food blogger Facebook group or by becoming a contributor to a food site. The community is amazing and everyone really does want to help each other. The truth is if you connect with others, put out high quality content and keep at it, the opportunities will come to you. Also, be bold! Reach out to brands you love and use and ask to work with them. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no but at least you’ll be on their radar.
How do you balance your blog with your career? To be honest, it can be quite challenging. A blog is a monster that is never satiated; you must constantly feed it. Be prepared to work, but if it’s also your passion project you will love it. I often travel and am out of town on weekends so it’s hard to find the time...I try to think of my blog as a kind of part time job where I dedicate a certain amount of time to it a week. You need to make it a part of your schedule. Put it on the calendar and make it a priority...There was a time where I didn’t post for three months straight and I lost a lot of momentum after enjoying a strong start.
Fave places to eat/drink in the area?? Union Market is a food playground. I basically walk around and buy something from nearly every stand and share it with my boyfriend. Recently I had a brisket sandwich from The BBQ Joint and it was so juicy and delicious. I was kind of mad that I was sharing it with someone. I also love the frozen boozy drinks sold out of the [Suburbia] Airstream out front in the summer. I love Little Serow for its northern Thai food. Chiang Mai was my favorite city that I visited in SE Asia and the food hits the nail on the head. The fried chicken at Rose’s Luxury had me stopping between each bite saying, “Oh my god, how did he do this?” I am currently on a mission to find the best cortado in the city. So far La Colombe is killing it.
Favorite Farmer's Market? I sometimes go to several in one weekend...The Falls Church Farmer's Market is year-round and a good size. Westover Hills has a small but mighty market. I discovered some great local products there! If I'm in D.C. I try to make it to the Dupont Market. There's a French pastry chef that makes this cake with pastry cream in the middle, scented with orange blossom water. It's heaven. What Instagram accounts should we be following? @vinasana is amazing. She cooks, designs, takes photos, and eats all the amazing Asian food D.C. has to offer. @broadappetite [has] pointed me to a lot of great D.C. places. She's also half Korean and my food/cooking soul mate – we became friends in real life! @thisisjamesj has an amazing feed filled with D.C. scenes and D.C. food. It's amazing how much talent is focused here in this area!
Best Korean food (besides yours!)? Well, the best Korean food is really in my Grandma's kitchen. But if I want a delicious Korean bbq dinner I always go to Kogiya in Annandale. I think the meat is good quality and it's a good value (get the pork combo!). I love the modern, industrial aesthetic they have there. It reminds me of one of my favorite spots in Seoul. I also really love ToSokJip in Annandale. It's a hole in the wall place with stark decor and curt severs, but the food is delicious. It's the kind of neighborhood place you see all over Korea, with regular customers. Go for the lunch special Monday through Friday. It's an incredible value and you will leave stuffed! The one thing I think the D.C. area is missing though is a really good makgeolli bar. Makgeolli is a kind of fermented rice wine/beer that needs to be made fresh. I dream of the day a makgeolli brewery/bar opens in D.C.!
Spicy Cold Noodles or Bibimguksu
Serves 1 /// Prep time: 5 minutes /// Cook time: 10 minutes
This is a refreshing, cold dish often eaten in hot weather. It’s also a great palate cleanser after eating some grilled Korean meat like bulgogi or galbi. I’ve used soba noodles made with buckwheat and sweet potato in this recipe but you can use any noodle labeled for “naengmyun” or “somyeon” from a Korean grocery store or any kind of soba or somen you find in the international aisle of your local grocery store. This recipe can easily be doubled/multiplied depending on how many people you’re serving. [PS – head to Ginger & Toasted Sesame for Sonja's Rampchi recipe!]
1/4 cup of kimchi juice (the juice from a jar of kimchi)
3 tablespoons of gochujang or Korean chili paste
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
1 teaspoon of rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds
3-4 ounces of buckwheat or thin wheat noodles such as soba or somen
1/4 cup of rampchi or any kind of kimchi, chopped
1/4-1/2 cup of cucumber, radish, and/or carrot (you can use any of these or any combination of them) julienned finely
Toasted sesame seeds to garnish
Hardboil an egg. I prefer soft-boiled eggs so I cook an egg in the shell by dropping it in boiling water for six minutes, then letting it sit in cold water while I finish the recipe. Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Rinse in cold water until cooled, drain thoroughly, and place in a deep bowl.
Mix together the ingredients for the sauce and pour over the noodles. Top with the kimchi, vegetables, and halved egg. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
To eat, mix all the ingredients together thoroughly (I like to eat the egg first, then mix).