“My mother would take leftover rice, spread it across a pan, and make a rice snack,” Queens native Hannah Bae says while describing how her mother made nooroongji, a traditional Korean dish. “She would break up the rice and put it in hot water and give it to me when I was sick.”
“It wasn’t that tasty,” Hannah admitted of her mother’s remedial recipe as she sipped an espresso and shook her head, “but I thought if you added some milk and some sugar and a little salt, that would be a tasty ice cream flavor.”
And now the founder of Noona’s Ice Cream, that’s just what she’s done. Her “Toasted Rice” flavor won the popular vote at the Lower East Side’s beloved 2016 Hester Street Fair, motivating her to start her own business. She now offers six Korean-inspired ice cream flavors including “Black Sesame,” a mix of roasted black sesame seed paste and vanilla ice cream; “Sweet as Bae” made with cinnamon, ginger, peppercorn and pear; and “Little Miss Sunshine,” a turmeric ice cream mixed with honeycomb.
Noona’s started as a one-woman operation in Cobble Hill. From a rented dairy facility, Hannah did everything from the sourcing, to cooking, to delivering. Her fan base has grown and Hannah is upscaling her operations this fall with plans to hire a team of ice cream makers and to move her facility to a bigger space in the Bronx. She also will be outsourcing some of the production to fellow local makers like Liddabit Sweets and Maya’s Jams.
Part of what Hannah loves about making food inspired by her Korean roots are the unexpected associations some customers have. “Even though toasted rice is inspired by a traditional Korean rice snack… [an Irish person] might be like ‘Wow this reminds me of my mother’s rice pudding.’”
In addition to connecting her to fellow sweet-tooths from different backgrounds, Noona’s has also helped Hannah connect to some of her relatives who, due to a language barrier, she says she “might otherwise not be able to communicate with so well.”
Hannah’s grandmother is one such relative, and one of her new flavors is actually inspired by her garden where she used to grow perilla (a mint relative with anise notes).
Hannah debuted “Korean Mint Sorbet” last month at Fort Greene’s Eat Greene street festival where she shared a booth with her fiancé, Scott Bridi the man behind small-batch charcuterie company Brooklyn Cured.
“He’s a big inspiration to me and my biggest supporter,” Hannah remarked of Scott. The couple hopes to one day build a mentorship program for budding food entrepreneurs. “We want to use our talents and skills in a bigger way,” explained Hannah, “that’s what being a noona”— meaning older sister in Korean—“is all about.”
Photos courtesy of Noona’s Ice Cream.
This story was originally published in 2017.