At CupBop Idaho, Korean food in a bowl, fast, fresh and delicious, is their way of satisfying hungry people in the Treasure Valley. Starting three months ago with a food truck that has become a big hit, they’ve now opened their first brick and mortar location in the Eagle Island Marketplace in Meridian. After a first visit to CupBop in order to try the food incognito, a return visit yielded a nice chat with Keith Arruda, the owner and mastermind behind it. Keith is very much the hands on owner, working behind the counter and greeting customers.
“We partnered up with some guys out of Utah who basically started the same thing”, Keith said. “They started a truck; and within four years they had six restaurants and six trucks and it’s just gone crazy! I got with them roughly eight months ago and they were like, ‘we want to rock a food truck out there’. I’ve been wanting to do a food truck for a while so I said, ‘sounds good, let’s taste the food, see the concept and see how you rock it”. I went out there and wound up falling in love with it, I got the investors involved and partnered up with them. We’ve had it out here three months; and a store now’.”
When asked why he thought Korean food was the way to go, he said, “It’s different to this area. The flavors that we get to cook with—–I’ve worked in Asian restaurants before and I just love the flavors! The different flavors that come into making the sauces, the marindaes, the meats, it just combines. It’s real different from the normal burger restaurants or taco joints and stuff like that, so when we got the truck we wanted something that would grab some attention and taste buds. You know, start hitting these palates a little different”.
The food at CupBop Idaho in Meridian covers a few areas and does them well. On the first visit, I ordered a Hot Bop. Ordering is simple—you place your order with the first crewmember, walk down the line where the next assembles the bowl and down to the next who sauces and garnishes it. My Hot Bop started with rice, then a choice of lettuce or cabbage (I suggest cabbage, the extra crunch is really nice) and a mound of sweet potato noodles, delicate, flavorful and one of the most popular items in Korean food. A generous portion of marinated, cooked pork (bulgogi) was added next. Keith described the pork, saying, “The bulgogi is the big one, a lot of people come in and ask for the bulgogi. You’ve got a sweet Korean soy sauce. That is cooked into the beef; the beef is marinated in that. It’s a main sauce for ending the bowls after we sauce them so we get certain levels of heat and sweet on them. The goji paste is what we cook our pork in which is just another great Korean flavor. Ginger, the onions, cabbage, kimchi, we just incorporate all those flavors into each bowl. And just make them different. You build your bowl and you can get as many flavors as you want there”.
The last step as I reached the end of the line was the saucing and garnishing. The heat level is up to you, with a range of 1 to 10. My choice of 7 gave a fiery bowl, while still allowing the more subtle flavors to come through. There are several other sauces they’ll put on too to make the bowl unique for you and to your taste. Some sesame seed garnish and it is finished. The bowl itself looked beautiful, but the proof was in the flavors. The pork had the distinctive Korean flavors, both sweet and spicy; and the meat was very tender. The sweet potato noodles, slippery but flavorful, contrasted nicely with the fresh, crunchy shredded cabbage. Forks are supplied, although I used the optional chopsticks to heighten the experience. The bowl is also available with beef (B-Bop) or chicken (KKO KKO-Bop). Vegans are covered too, with a Doochi Bop (tofu and kimchi) and a Noodle Bop (Korean style noodles).
Another visit was to try one of the most popular items in Korea—fried chicken! Here too in the US now, Korean fried chicken has become very popular. Korean fried chicken has a light, crunchy coating, so crisp it crackles. At CupBop, you can find Korean fried chicken in the Ugly Bop bowl. The chicken was done perfectly, the pieces juicy and the exterior with a decidedly delicious crunch. Importantly, the chicken is still crispy after the sauce is applied and holds up nicely even as a to-go order.
Korea has their own version of potstickers/dumplings that are called mandoo. These are a must-get item at CupBop Idaho. The meat-filled pastries are light and pan-fried to perfection. Served without sauce, the dumplings have a nice crispy exterior with a flavorful meat filling. A bite yields a n ice snap and then the flavor and smooth texture of the filling. Ordered with sauce, they are taken to another level and provide a great palette for the different sauces at CupBop.
Another item that has to be tasted at CupBop is the kimchi. Kimchi at it’s most basic is pickled cabbage, seasoned with garlic and chili. CupBop imports their kimchi from South Korea in order to get just the flavors they want. The kimchi is just very mildly spicy, with the tang from the salty brine and the crunch from the napa cabbage. It is a side dish to accompany everything in Korea and should be tried at CupBop, where the mildness of the kimchi makes it very easy for anyone to try.
As tastes change, many people are looking for something different and this is where CupBop excels. If you haven’t tried Korean food this is an excellent place to start and if you have, it is a good place to go to get quick, healthy and delicious Korean tastes. More items are on the way too, as Keith explained, “ There’s other things on the menu that we haven’t brought out yet, because our main goal is to start simple, get the crew up to speed, make the experience for the guests consistent and great; and then start implementing these other items. We’ve got stone bowls that will probably come out soon. You put the food in the stone bowls, it stays hot, comes out almost like a fajita plate. We do a Shake Bop, which is going to have a lot more veggies on it. There are other sauces that we will start incorporating with the items on the menu. There’s a lot more flavors to come!”.
There is definitely a calling for this kind of food. At both visits there were lots of people inside the week-old restaurant enjoying what CupBop Idaho has to offer. Keith said, “We’ve had it out here three months; and a store now. The reaction is great; the community has been amazing. The first week we had the truck out we had 1200 followers. That’s what we use as our marketing, we don’t do a web page, we just rock Facebook and Instagram and we get people to follow us and that’s how we get our feedback and our reviews on their experiences, their tastes, the flavors; and that’s how we communicate with them from there. That’s how we post our truck schedule every morning so they check our page and know where we’re going to be. That’s how we do specials, giveaways, all kinds of fun stuff through that page”.
CupBop is off to a good start it seems and is really providing a new flavor experience in the Boise area. So whether you try the truck, which appears at places and events including some of the Boise State games, or the new restaurant, you’ll have a delicious experience and a fun time.
1520 W. Chinden Blvd.
Eagle Island Marketplace
Meridian, ID 83646
Phone: (208) 640-6548
Photo gallery follows. All photos by Ed Simon for The Boise Beat.