Contrary to what your hipster bro pals say, kimchi is never supposed to be consumed stinky and sour. The right kind of kimchi, prepared in the right kind of way, should hit the palate with a tangy and flavorful zest: crisp, with a savory bite that finishes clean. Most places that stock kimchi by the jar sell it overly ripe and overly fermented, to the point where it turns sharp even before you get to enjoy the fresh tartness.
Yet every so often, and with some luck, you’ll stumble upon a jar so delicious that it’s ready to eat even before the ripening begins. Seoul Do Soon Yi Kimchi Company in Garden Grove has mastered the art of preparing the perfect bite inside every kimchi jar for the last 20 years. The hole-in-the-wall first opened back in 1996, and has been run by the same family ever since.
“I made the title of the business a long time ago; it’s a nickname from Korea for my mom,” said owner Jennifer Kang. She explained that “do-soon-yi” used to be a folky, back-in-the-day term for expressing a resilient and positive spirit, kind of like Dory's "Just keep swimming" affirmation. That spirit gave the family courage to open up the shop, and their kimchi became a hit with the locals. Do Soon Yi focuses on pickling their cabbage with flavorful ingredients as opposed to just spice, garnering a lot of business from non-Koreans who prefer the side dish less hot.
Four types of kimchi are sold by the gallon. Both the house cabbage, known as bechu kimchi, and “white” kimchi (a sweeter, less spicy version) sell for $16 a jar, and the spot lets you choose between buying whole or pre-cut. Pro's tip: buying whole and slicing it up at home always seems to taste better, and has a longer shelf life.
Do Soon Yi’s chonggak kimchi (the long radish) is a favorite that goes for $22. They also make the best oi kimchi (sliced cucumber) around and sell it by the half-gallon for $11, or full for $22. These prices are higher than what you'll find at a 99 Ranch or Arirang Supermarket, but those stores aren't selling sizes as big, usually aren't putting their kimchi in glass jars, and—more importantly—aren't making their kimchi in house or as delicious.
Their secret is simple. “The vegetables are very good quality, and because it’s a family business and we make it, all the materials we use are just good,” said Kang. “It’s more clean.”
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The kimchi-loving family is at the store by 8 a.m. every morning, Monday through Sunday. Do Soon Yi also takes special orders for smaller jars by request after noticing a lot of intimidation for their sheer size.
"We especially wanted to accommodate all the Korean grandmothers," Kang said, "living alone at home who don't need an entire jar."
Seoul Do Soon Yi Kimchi Company, 9972 Garden Grove Blvd., #B, Garden Grove, (714) 638-5424. Cash and personal checks only.