Tucked away in a cozy nook in the middle of downtown, Bellingham’s only Korean family restaurant offers something that you would otherwise have to head down to Seattle or up to Vancouver to find authentic home-style Korean cooking. 

Although most popularly associated with tabletop barbecue grilling, Korean cuisine is hugely varied and includes many soups, stews, noodle, and rice dishes along with the famous kimchi side dish (salted, seasoned, and fermented vegetables of which there are over 100 different varieties). YunGaNe showcases many of these Korean favorites to expand palates and satisfy diners alike. 

Photograph by Leigh Hellman

Colloquially translated to Yun’s Home Cooking, the restaurant is named after Owner and Chef YunHee Cowin. Cowin grew up on the southern coast of South Korea and learned how to cook in the style of her province, which is known for its bold flavors and rich food traditions. She came to the U.S. over 30 years ago and settled in Bellingham in 1994, where she built a career as a restaurant manager in various hotel and fine dining establishments. 

After years of working in other people’s restaurants, she finally made the leap to start her own business in 2019 with the goal of sharing her heritage and culture with her second home country. 

Photograph by Leigh Hellman

There have been challenges to providing an authentic experience for diners, including sourcing ingredients that are not available locally and adapting recipes for U.S. produce. Cowin makes weekly trips to the Korean markets near Seattle for ingredients and prepares the restaurant’s rotating side dishes fresh daily based on seasonal availability. 

She also plans to introduce samgyeopsal (pork belly grilled at the table)— in addition to the Korean-style fried chicken with her homemade sauce that is already a popular menu item— as her personal spin on the current Korean food trends. 

Although the pandemic hit the newly opened restaurant hard, Cowin is optimistic about the growing word of mouth around her food.

 “If people like it, they’re going to tell more people to come,” Cowin says. 

Photograph by Leigh Hellman

Bringing out a tray of steaming dolsot bibimbap (Korean stone pot rice and vegetable bowl) and an array of banchan (Korean side dishes), Cowin took a quick break from preparing the restaurant for the dinner rush to sit down with us for a meal. 

The dish— made with a base layer of rice topped with sections of bulgogi (thin marinated slices of beef), seasoned bean sprouts, carrots, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, and zucchini and topped off with a fried egg— is an iconic traditional meal which highlights the nutritious balance between meat/seafood, rice, and vegetables that Korean cuisine is built on.

 The result, when mixed together in the hot stone bowl, was a delightfully savoy and hearty meal that evoked the universal warmth and joy of the best kind of comfort food. 

But it was the company of the owner, sharing her professional passions and frustrations over the brief meal, that really highlighted the power of food as a cultural connection that everyone can be a part of.

 “Food opens up the heart,” Cowin asserts. “We are all connected, and no one can live just by themselves. My hope is that the future will be more open for everyone.” 1204 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham, 360.392.8658, yunganebellingham.com