It’s 11 a.m. at a kitchen in Sunnyside, Queens, but Richard Jang, and his girlfriend Haiqi Yu, have already been up since 2 a.m. procuring fresh crabs at the New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx, as they do at least twice a week for their restaurant delivery service, Rice Thief.
What started as a homespun business in November of last year now operates out of Sunnyside Eats, a commercial ghost kitchen. Rice Thief serves several Korean-style raw seafood dishes including, red Argentinian or white shrimp, abalone, and scallop, but the star is the soy-marinated crab, known as ganjang gejang along with its counter-part spicy crab yangnyeom gejang. “There’s nothing quite like the taste of the yolk you get with raw crab,” says Jang. “It’s so creamy, almost like uni,” agrees Yu. Initially, they started the business under the name Crab Town to get straight to the point.
In Korea, soy-marinated crabs get the nickname rice thief, the idea being the dish is so flavorful, that it steals all the rice away. “When it’s raw, you get so much more flavor — it’s blowing up all over mukbangs right now [on social media], where you squeeze out that orange,” says Jang.
In addition, Rice Thief wanted to offer some non-raw dishes, such as spicy pork bone soup (gamjatang), Korean abalone congee, and homemade Korean drinks like pumpkin rice punch (shikye), all sold in larger orders meant to share. The Rice Thief menu is set up for family-style portions, ideal for a dinner party.
It’s truly a family affair: Rice Thief collaborates with and uses the recipes of Jang’s mom, Jong Sook Jang, who previously owned a Korean restaurant, Jang Soo Chon in Richmond Hill, Staten Island until around 2012.
“She worked so hard, like 15-hour days, so that we didn’t have to work in the restaurant and to provide us with the basic childhood she was never able to experience growing up,” says Jang, who worked in finance prior to debuting Rice Thief. “I will forever be indebted to the sacrifices my mother made, and wholeheartedly this is the main reason we pursued this: to share the love my mother puts into her craft and cuisine with the whole world.”
Last fall, Jang’s mother made the soy-marinated crabs, a specialty craving of his that she didn’t serve at her former restaurant. His girlfriend, who is Chinese, posted a photo of it on social media and immediately started getting requests for purchases they began to fulfill out of their Long Island City home kitchen as a team.
“We never thought this would turn into a business,” says Yu. “It really just started out as a fun thing.” In the meantime, the trio is still figuring out how to balance both their personal relationships with work. “This is my first business and it’s about dividing our talents... we’re adapting every day,” says Jang.
The soy marinade for the crabs is Jang’s mother’s secret. It uses 20-plus herbs and other seasonings that the team sources from a Korean market in Flushing, and is a laborious marination process that takes about 3-5 days to ferment. “There are no shortcuts. She is very serious about her craft,” he says.
“Everything tastes so fresh,” says Eater alum and Korean food influencer, James Park, who recently attended a dinner party with friends that had ordered from Rice Thief. Park says he’s seen an uptick recently on TikTok of the crab dish, and he hopes it means more New Yorkers will take greater interest.
Shannon Lee, editor at the Asian American Arts Alliance, also a customer, said for her, finding Rice Thief on Instagram was a “moth-to-flame situation.” Lee was on a quest to find gejang, something she says is not as easy to find at New York City Korean restaurants. “Stocking raw seafood is expensive and not worthwhile for a somewhat niche menu item. When restaurants do have it, it’s usually from crabs that have been frozen and the roe (the best part, in my opinion) is usually scant,” she says. “Seeing a place that specializes in gejang and treats it like the star that it unequivocally is is an answer to all my crabby prayers!”
Rice Thief has aspirations of becoming a full-service restaurant. But for now, the Jang family is interested in using the ghost kitchen as a testing ground. From 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily pick-up is available at Sunnyside Eats at 40-05 Skillman Avenue. Rice Thief also delivers to Long Island City, Flushing, Elmhurst, Upper Manhattan, Lower Manhattan, parts of Brooklyn, and Jersey City, each with their respective hours of operation (the team says to get in touch for orders beyond that radius).
For now, orders must be placed via direct message on Instagram, but the team plans to launch on DoorDash this month. Reach out for a copy of the menu.