Food Review: Korean Market Brings Kimchee to Huddled Oberlin Masses

Alex La Ferla, Staff Writer

Kim’s Market, Oberlin’s new Asian specialty store and eatery, is located on Eric Nord Way, a small street in the new East College Street complex. And while most of Kim’s patrons probably don’t know where Eric Nord Way is located (or who Eric Nord, an Amherst philanthropist who passed away in 2008, actually was), the market has nonetheless attracted members of the Oberlin community in droves.

One of several retail spaces that make up the new East College Street complex, Kim’s Market is a combination grocery store and restaurant tucked behind Slow Train Cafe. After staring curiously through the doors for several days, I decided it was finally time to explore this unknown, but promising, new establishment. Before sitting down for a meal of Korean classics, I decided to cruise the aisles of the grocery section to see what the deli had to offer.

The grocery at Kim’s houses an impressive array of exotic goods, serving as a welcome addition to a town that has no supermarket within walking distance. Of particular note were the jars of various sizes containing what looked to be homemade kimchee, a traditional Korean dish of fermented cabbage, vegetables and assorted spices and seasonings. Many customers must be warned, however, that dozens of items are marked only in Asian languages, making their uses, ingredients and origins a complete mystery to a monolingual customer like myself.

Of the products whose labels I could decipher, many stood out as decidedly odd. Rarities like bagged mayonnaise and fish processed into “block” form stood alongside other items you might expect in an Asian grocery, in addition to some mysterious sauces, powders and instant lunches. It seems that this store intends to challenge Gibson’s current claim to selling the most interesting novelty food items in town.

After taking in this panoply of condensed, freeze-dried goodness, I had a hankering for owner Kim Micha-Little’s specialty cooking. I opted for the traditional bulgogi, a dish of marinated beef that is either barbequed or pan-cooked. The dish was served under a bed of sesame seed-covered cellophane noodles and accompanied by sides of rice, pickled vegetables and bean sprouts. The beef was tasty with the addition of a little Sriracha sauce (which the proprietors are more than happy to provide if asked). My favorite part of the meal, however, was the side of Kimchi soup, a delicious, spicy, sinus-clearing cure for the common Obie Plague.

The low-key ambience at Kim’s is another plus. No music plays at the deli, and all of the food is served in Styrofoam vessels, providing relief from the sometimes nauseatingly pretentious atmosphere of restaurants like Toôo Chinoise and Weia Teia.

There is, however, one important drawback to Kim’s: For a deli that purports to serve quick and cheap Korean dishes, the food is not exactly cheap. $10 for my bulgogi (soup included) seems a little excessive for pre-prepared food served on Styrofoam. This is especially true considering the $5 lunch options at Mandarin or the two restaurants mentioned above, although if you choose one of these options you will most likely have to endure a looped recording of smooth jazz renditions of popular songs from the ‘70s. That choice I leave to the reader.

Despite its questionable prices, Kim’s Market does provide a welcome alternative to the usual suspects of Oberlin cuisine, as well as a nearby place to shop for specialty snacks and ingredients. Now all we have to do is wait for an Indian restaurant.