Traditional Asian cuisine found in High Point
By: Jennifer Zeleski
The Triad’s international food scene is something to be proud of with lengthy lists of locations that cover several spectrums of cultural cuisines. It’s enlightening when you find a place like Kaya Japanese Fast Food, located at 3925 Sedgebrook St. in High Point, and disappointing when you visit a different new restaurant that’s not only sub-par but embarrassing to associate with the delicious and eclectic food landscape that can be found in Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point.
After a not-so-great experience at one newly-opened “Japanese fast food” location in Greensboro, I decided to look up the same phrase, but this time, looking for a place that seemed to have missed the attention it deserved. Hoping to find a hidden treasure somewhere, one that would be sure to wipe away the bad memories of a meal that went mostly uneaten, and Kaya was that place.
Little did I know, I had driven past it dozens of times on NC-68, where the location is hidden behind another international must-go, BBQ Nation. When my boyfriend Peyton and I arrived, we walked underneath the neon red “Japanese Restaurant” sign into a somewhat spacious, family-owned business that had John 3:16 hand-painted on the wall, in English and Korean.
The opposing wall was covered in pictures of dishes ranging in price from $8.95 to $23.95, and almost all were Korean. The Japanese portion of the menu was a blackboard that listed a variety of hibachi options, including vegetable, chicken, beef, scallop and several combinations, all of which came with white rice or fried, vegetables and white sauce.
Despite the original intentions of Japanese fast food, how could we pass up the opportunity to experience traditional Korean instead? High Point has another traditional Korean location roughly 20 minutes away in a much less-casual setting (High Point Korean BBQ). Based on our great experiences there, we decided to adjust our appetites. Hibachi would just have to wait for another time.
Few of the dishes were recognizable by name, so we ordered based on their letter/number identifiers. My choice was “S2,” a Soft Tofu Stew with Seafood, which also had a beef option. Peyton’s entrée was “C2,” the Dol Sot Bibimbap, which is only described as “sizzling vegetables on rice” but based on previous bibimbap experiences, we knew enough to predict there would (most likely) be beef and a fried egg added on top. Lastly, a pork fried egg roll, because that was a little more aligned with the originally intended “fast food.”
The space was fairly quiet and clean, and we could hear Peyton’s fried egg as it sizzled to a crisp on a hot pan. Somewhere behind the curtained kitchen, both of our bowls were being heated to ridiculously high temperatures, which was proven as soon as they made their way to the table.
The egg rolls, along with shareable sides arrived first, which included a small cup of lightly-colored broth with an egg mixed in, (and tasted like a very mild version of chicken broth, and not quite miso) and a plate of kimchi, fish cakes and pickled daikon. The kimchi seemed to be mostly bean sprouts in sweet vinegar, but can be made in various ways depending on region and preference, and is often made with white radishes.
Starting with each of these options truly set the tone for the rest of the food to come. The egg rolls were easily the best we’ve both ever tasted. One order came with two egg rolls, with their outer layers having gone just past the point of being golden, instead of creating a crunch that took you right into the sweetness of the cabbage-based filling. The pork was savory, but not overwhelming or greasy, and the rolls needed nothing for support (duck sauce, hot sauce or the like).
After enjoying the rolls a bit too much, and feeling a pang of guilt for indulging too quickly, we rebounded into our newfound favorite, kimchi. Sweeter and less astringent than what we’re used to, the kimchi has a great crunch and freshness that would go well in addition to almost any dish on the menu. Peyton saved some for his bibimbap as I enjoyed the pickled daikon, which was refreshing, crunchy and satisfied my slight obsession with bean sprouts. The two other small side dishes, the fish cakes sprinkled with sesame seeds, and the chopped zucchini with an orange-tinted sauce, both didn’t offer much flavor but were worth a try.
The real stars arrived literally sizzling and bubbling. Peyton’s large black bowl was hot enough to start to brown the rice on the bottom, urging him to stir its contents throughout to avoid too much sticking, some of which is inevitable.
The bowl was filled. White rice covered the bottom, layered with shredded beef, thin strips of carrots, bean sprouts, sprinkled seaweed and bok choy. And yes, there was a fried egg like a cherry on top. The edges of the fried egg were crispy just as we expected, and each bite was different. Peyton rated it a 10/10 bibimbap, with its crunchy rice, fresh vegetables and its ability to fill him up before the bowl would be cool enough to touch. He enjoyed the addition of the kimchi and admitted it would be tough to order something different upon returning based on just how good this one option was as a first choice.
My bowl was strikingly different. Much smaller and boiling to the edge, but just barely keeping all of the bright, spicy broth inside. There were a few moments of fear when I contemplated what the general “seafood” term meant for the soup, but I knew I just had to go at it blindly. The soup was hot — temperature wise and spice-wise. Be warned if you skim from the top, the oil will leave a lingering spice only calmed by the white rice on the side. I tried (and failed) to identify some of the fishy components, picking out the octopus that was a bit too tough to swallow, and making funny faces across the table when an unexpected texture came up. Nonetheless, the broth was spicy and savory, and the tofu was so soft it melted in your mouth, despite still having a slight texture in the soup. I knew it would be a recipe I could try to copy at home but would fall short on all of the necessary ingredients, even if I left out those that swim.
More than anything, what we got was traditional. There wasn’t a thought that crossed through our minds back to the rather unfortunate meal prior, and there was yet another location added to the list of places that adventurous, culturally-curious foodies need to try. Look for the unsuspecting, and you never know what you might find.
Jennifer Zeleski is a student contributor to YES! Weekly. She is originally from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Communications at High Point University.
3925 Sedgebrook St, High Point, NC 27265, open every day from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. except Sundays.