A World Away
Kim’s Oriental Food Brings All of Asia to Asheville
By Nan K. Chase
Sometimes a front door is more than a door. Sometimes it’s a portal into another world, new and beckoning.
Walk through the entrance of Kim’s Oriental Food & Gifts, which occupies about 1,000 square feet of storefront in a strip mall off Patton Avenue, and you encounter a mind-boggling array of items drawn from the huge swath of Earth we call Asia.
It’s not an easy job to curate such a collection, but aiming to serve every possible Asian customer living in the Asheville area—plus the Western shoppers who account for about two-thirds of the shop’s business—has been a rewarding enterprise for Seoryong Kim and her husband, Jay Yang.
“She’s the boss,” Yang says, nodding toward his wife with a smile, but he does most of the talking. An assistant keeps the stock meticulously arranged.
Although Yang and Kim are proudly Korean-American—and, yes, they sell locally made kimchi—their retail outlook is Pan-Asian.
Look to the left and you’ll see a diminutive cooler stocked with canned and bottled beverages: lychee juice, soy drinks, ginseng tonic, chrysanthemum tea, and grass-jelly drink. There’s a table neatly stacked with fresh produce—plump Chinese cabbage, fat white radishes, bright green pea pods, purple-veined Thai basil, and burnt-orange persimmons.
Kim offers a crisp, juicy slice of Korean pear to a shopper. “The best in the world,” she says proudly. To the right is rice: long-grain, short-grain, medium-grain; white, black, brown; Californian, Japanese, Philippine, Vietnamese, Thai; basmati, jasmine, sushi. There are orderly shelves of glittering cellophane-wrapped packages, ranks of refrigerator and freezer cases, and racks of tableware, gadgets, and cosmetics.
The variety appears endless, but the owners are looking for larger West Asheville quarters so they can offer even more. A move would not be out of keeping with the store’s history. Kim’s originally was located in the Flat Iron Building downtown, then moved to Merrimon Avenue before settling into its current spot in West Asheville. A separate wholesale side of the business caters to restaurants.
Yang and Kim are the third owners, having bought the shop in 2008. Yang had been working in marketing for the Korean division of Volvo Construction Equipment when he was transferred to the company’s headquarters in Skyland, south of Asheville. When Volvo shuttered its plant there and moved its headquarters to Pennsylvania, the family—Yang and Kim have two children, both now studying at universities—decided to stay put. After 20 years traveling around the world for a multinational corporation, they decided to remain in the United States as independent business owners.
Kim’s Oriental Food & Gifts was the answer. Yang felt that serious growth was coming to Asheville, and he was right. As a bonus, his wife’s name matched that of the shop (Kim is a common Korean surname).
Today the shop is a perfect complement to Asheville’s foodloving culture. If you’re looking for Asian cookware like sieves and strainers, mortar-and-pestle sets, steamers, and condiment trays, Kim’s is the place.
Dried spices come in big packages with small price tags, as do commodities like dried shiitake mushrooms and 20 varieties of beans for sprouting. The shop sells not just green and black teas but also teas made from roasted corn, barley, and rice.
Asian standards include seaweed and kelp products, starches for thickening sauces, banana leaf wrappers, and more than a dozen coconut products. The coolers and freezers hold packages of tiny anchovies, pickled jellyfish, and whole large fish for steaming or frying—with nothing over three dollars a pound.
The shop is a refuge and a resource for its Asian customers. For cooks new to those cuisines, Kim’s offers something else: an invitation to stretch their culinary muscles without breaking the bank. ◊◊
Kim’s Oriental Food & Gifts
5 Regent Park Boulevard,
Suite 110 (near Sam’s Club)
9 a.m.–7:30 p.m.
Sunday, 1–5 p.m.
Nan K. Chase slathers on the chili garlic sauce when she makes stir fry at her home in Asheville. She is the author of Eat Your Yard! and co-author of Drink the Harvest.
Seoryong Kim owns Kim’s Oriental Food & Gifts with her husband, Jay Yang. Photo by Erin Adams.
Kim’s Oriental offers lychee juice, soy drinks, ginseng tonic, chrysanthemum tea, and grass-jelly drink. Photo by Erin Adams.