It is no secret that Korean food has seen a surge of popularity in the last several decades. In the decade before the pandemic, nearly 1,000 Korean restaurants were added in the United States alone (think Korean BBQ)! Dishes like bulgogi can regularly be seen influencing all sorts of other food industries, from taco trucks to American fine dining.
With this rise in popularity has come the rise in the prevalence of Korean grocery stores. Having delicious Korean food prepared for you is fantastic, but more and more Americans are dipping their toes into Korean cooking themselves. This begs the question: how does one choose the right Korean grocery store? Should you choose a physical store or buy online? Let’s dive into some of the factors you should consider when choosing a Korean grocery store so that your next bibimmyeon or tteokbokki is delicious as can be!
Brick and Mortar vs. Online
Both of the buying options, physical and online, have their advantages and disadvantages. Depending on what you’d like to purchase, one may be a better option for you.
Brick & Mortar
Brick and mortar can be your go-to for easy-to-find, everyday Korean staples. Most brick and mortar stores will carry the big brands of sauces, rice, and beverages. The meat and seafood counter can sometimes be relatively well stocked, but be sure to check on the origin of the meat you’re buying. The fresh salmon probably looks great, but it’s definitely not from Korea!
This is likely the largest downside of a physical store - it can be hard to determine where exactly the products are coming from, and there is a decent chance the products you’re buying are just re-branded “Korean” foods from otherwise American companies.
Shopping online for groceries might have been a foreign concept in 2019, but the pandemic has changed that paradigm. Now, in 2021, more than 70% of households ordered groceries online. Online Korean grocery stores are no exception to this.
A major benefit of online grocery stores is their transparency. Stores like Kim’C Market make it easy to understand where products come from and to know if they’re actually Korean. As an added bonus, online stores generally have robust delivery programs, making it easy to know how fresh the food you’re getting actually is.
Suppliers & Producers
Korean grocery stores should primarily carry Korean food - seems like a no-brainer, right? Turns out this isn’t actually true a large portion of the time. Many “Korean grocery stores” will sell products with Korean-sounding names that are just rebranded American products. Kim’C Market has access to some of the best Korean brands, importing directly from Korea for maximum freshness. Here are a few key Korean brands that are authentically Korean!
Goyang-Si Rice Research Society Farming Association
Traditionally, the Korean province of Gyeonggi has enjoyed the reputation of being the best rice producer in the country, even becoming the offical rice supplier to Korea's royal families. The province’s soil, water and climate are ideal to grow excellent rice. Many rice crops (both white rice and brown rice) developed by the Gyeonggi Provincial Agricultural Research Institute, grow only in Gyeonggi. This rice is imported from Korea and milled right here in NYC - giving you access to fresh rice that hasn’t been on a brick and mortar shelf for weeks! And, you don’t have to be in Brooklyn or Queens to enjoy the freshest rice, we ship evverywhere in the USA.
Choicest Meal, the maker of products such as Thank-You Gochujang, is a company with a tradition that was founded in the 1960s. They strive for the globalization of Korean jang, traditional pastes, and sauces. Their mission is to select premium Korean ingredients based on stringent standards to craft products that not only taste good, but that are also good for the body.
Song Jeom-Suk Shrimp Jang
Song Jeom-Suk Shrimp Jang is a seafood processing company that reflects the long-accumulated know-how of CEO Song Jeom-Suk, a Jeollanam-do native with an unmatched sense of taste. Their highest standards of freshness and quality show their commitment to delivering the best Korean seafood to their customers. Song Jeom-Suk Shrimp Jang creates delicious pickled “jang” products out of clean Jeollanam-do seafood that will win the heart of anyone. Be sure to check out their wild-caught shrimp as well as cockle, octopus, and Yeosu mustard leaf.
From kimchi to ramen, spicy dumplings to rice cakes and fish cakes, and rice to udon, online stores like Kim’C Market have a greater ability to provide variety. The reasoning is simple: storage space. Large brick and mortar stores have relatively high overheads (rent, many employees, etc) and thus need to maintain higher margins to keep the lights on.
Online grocery stores eliminate many of these problems, allowing them to offer higher-quality, directly-imported items at lower prices. At Kim’C market, this means we’re able to offer dozens of kinds of soy sauces, fish sauces, and soybean pastes. Whether you’re looking for a pantry staple or a new, exciting addition to your kitchen, Kim’C has you covered.
One problem all Asian importers face is freshness. Some stores deal with this problem by pre-packing items in Korea, under the guise that it “seals in freshness.” For some products (sauces, pastes, etc) this is absolutely true. For other products, particularly rice, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The moment rice is milled a count-down timer starts. The fresh taste will start to decline after about 10 days, which is when many types of rice are hitting the shelves at a traditional Korean market.
Online stores, like Kim’C market, are able to deal with this problem in a uniquely fresh way. In the case of rice, we mill a dozen different varieties right here in New York, hours before shipping it to your home. This way you can enjoy fresh rice that stays fresh. In the case of meats and fish - we ship directly to you in temperature-controlled shipping boxes that guarantee your order’s taste.
A brick and mortar store will, by definition, give you the oldest frozen good of a particular item that they have in stock. This is a downside of needing to “make space” for new inventory. At Kim’C Market, we can ensure that only the freshest frozen foods - spicy dumplings, wild-caught shrimp, green-tea infused mackerel - make their way to your door and into your kitchen.
Last, and certainly not least, you should be on the lookout for a Korean grocery store that can guarantee quality control. Big box stores, by their nature, have a harder time doing this. They work with hundreds - if not thousands - of distributors, making it nearly impossible to vet every single one.
At a smaller grocery store like Kim’C Market, we have the ability to personally vouch for every single one of the brands we carry. They have been hand-selected for quality, freshness, and flavor by our dedicated team that scours Korea in order to bring the best Korea has to offer to your kitchen.