Beyond the grocery store aisles, discerning shoppers can find a rotating selection of fresh kimchi (a popular traditional Korean side dish made with salted and fermented vegetables) from Buu Chan— a local food business that specializes in authentic and fusion Asian sauces, seasonings, and side dishes— produced and sold right here in Bellingham.
Rika Wong, owner and operator of Buu Chan, LLC, has been working professionally in the food industry since she graduated from Western Washington University in 2015. After training with a local food truck and managing some
kitchens, Wong decided to leave her full-time kitchen job in 2020 to start Buu Chan.
“I like to call it my pandemic baby,” Wong shares with a smile. “Food has always been my passion and I thought long and hard about what I wanted to share with the community and what I thought would sell well.”
Inspired by her early bouts of homesickness when she first moved to Bellingham from Seattle, Wong decided to focus on offerings that reminded her of the comfort foods she missed having locally available back then. This includes Buu Chan’s best-selling chili garlic crisp, her take on her father’s version of the staple Chinese sauce that has helped make her feel more connected with her Chinese heritage.
Half Chinese and half Japanese, Wong drew from her own cultural fusion to build her business. The name Buu Chan means “little piggy” in Japanese and was her grandmother’s nickname as a child. Wong recalled watching her grandmother cook while she babysat, bringing bento boxes to their childhood sporting events and concerts, and teaching her grandchildren how to prepare traditional Japanese foods for New Years celebrations.
Although her own personal heritage is evident in her products, the bulk of what Buu Chan makes is varieties of the Korean side dish kimchi. As her business has grown, Wong has also begun branching out into items like fermented hot sauces and miso (a traditional Japanese seasoning made with fermented soybeans).
Wong is particularly passionate about her kimchi and the conversations that it has opened up with her customers, stating: “I hope that folks feel comfortable coming to us, asking questions, trying things, and opening their minds and palettes to these foods that are culturally significant and have such rich histories.”
Aware of the importance of uplifting other community members, Wong is a strong advocate for supporting local farms and agriculture. She emphasizes how grateful she is to live in a space with access to abundant produce and often tailors seasonal products to make the most of the regional harvests.
Additionally, she hopes to continue to be a source of representation and resources for young women of color in the local food industry.
“Food has this great power of bringing people together across differences and barriers like culture and language for them to share and learn. It’s central to my family and how we celebrate, so I kind of always knew that that’s where I would end up,” Wong muses. “I hope that people find connection through what we offer, whether that be to a memory, community, or a person— past or present.”
Online orders for Buu Chan are taken at buuchaneats.com with delivery available from Whatcom to Seattle as well as local pickup. They can be found at the Bellingham Farmers Market on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.