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How K-Pop Boosts a Kimchi Business

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“Last time, I was selling kimchi in the night market, but then no one was interested in Korean food five years ago… because of K-pop, people start to know kimchi more.”


Thinking of selling kimchi? Sang-Kyu Mo tells you what it takes.

Kimchi adorns almost every dining scene of Korean dramas. For a native Korean like Mo, the booming Korean food industry has reached global success in catering to the local taste. He attributes this to the expanding influence in the realm of pop culture. The dominance of K-drama and K-pop in the international scene puts kimchi on the map with its unique flavor and health benefits.

Mo runs Oppa Kimchi. He starts his typical day by packing kimchi orders at 8 a.m. for pick-up by courier partners. He will then do a video recording of cooking his authentic Korean recipes. He continues packing for the late-afternoon deliveries or he prepares the next day’s kimchi ingredients. He and his wife, Siew Yean, manage their kimchi business, sharing tasks such as doing photoshoots, brand designing, and product development. They are done with the job at around midnight or sometimes later. 


The businessman quipped, “Some days, we even use almost a full day to make kimchi!”

Oppa Kimchi is a brainchild of Mo, an interior and architecture professional. Without any previous food entrepreneurial experience, he ventured into it when Malaysia, his current residence, went on its first COVID-19 lockdown in March last year.

He recounted, “…because [there was] no interior and architecture job to generate income at that time and I needed to feed my family too.” 

The entrepreneur is proud of his classic kimchi recipe. He said it is “homemade and using my mother's recipe, which is more than 50 years.” It was passed on from his grandmother and the generations before her.

What makes his kimchi unique is Mo’s use of the boiled anchovy stock with kelp and dried shiitake mushrooms.

“To be honest, we are very generous in putting nutritious ingredients in our kimchi because it is the kind of kimchi that we want to nourish our family. And now we want to spread the same love to our customers, too. We believe that everyone deserves the best healthy food. The usual kimchi in the market normally just uses fish sauce and shrimp paste. Some even put food enhancers or MSG, but we don't. Though it may look the same on the outlook, the ingredients that we put in are a lot more, and [the] taste is, actually, richer,” he proudly described. 

Mo uses imported kelp from Korea. He also incorporates ingredients that are locally found but are identical to Korea’s seasonal and fresh ingredients.

“In Korea, usually, we make kimchi during autumn before entering winter, so the weather is cooling and turning cold. The kimchi will be kept underground and [we] let it ferment slowly under low temperature[s],” Mo narrates.

But what would he say to people who are displeased at the aroma of kimchi at the onset?

“I educated people who don't know about the benefits of kimchi yet... Usually, we will tell people that kimchi is full of probiotics, which is like yogurt, which is good for our gut. To stay healthy, you must try it out!” he added.

Oppa Kimchi’s regulars describe his kimchi as "mild spicy, juicy, and crunchy" or has "authentic kimchi flavor." This is in contrast to those who are strangers to kimchi, questioning its taste, smell, and its fermented state. However, Mo puts kimchi on the pedestal as the ultimate Korean food icon.

“Yes, 100%! It represents Korean characters as hot (passionate) - chili used, healthy (crucial) - it is nutritious, variety (multitask) - in the sauce alone, [a] variety of ingredients were used,” he enthused.

His most favorite kimchi recipe is a type of kimchi stew.

“I love 묵은지 김치찌게 (mukeunji kimchi jjigae). It is [the] same cooking method as kimchi stew, but kimchi is aged more than six months or so. Kimchi is extremely sour and [the] texture is so smooth like melting in the mouth. Just get some pork (meat) or sardine together to cook,” Mo said.

With the surge of online vendor platforms, a kimchi business has a good outlook. Mo would receive orders of one to two kilograms from each customer or 100 kilograms for bulk buyers.

“Last time I was selling kimchi in the night market, but then no one was interested in Korean food five years ago… because of K-pop, people start to know kimchi more,” he recalled.

Mo is a native of Seoul.

“So I am a Seoul oppa,” he boldly called himself.

Oppa means “older brother.” K-pop fangirling redefined it to refer to a man who is highly attractive and famous, usually an idol.

Mo still misses South Korea’s four seasons and its sceneries.

“Mostly, I miss my family and friends,” he said. 

Because the K-pop culture contributes to the success of selling his kimchi, the writer asked Mo if given the opportunity, would he become a member of BTS or would he become a world-class kimchi brand owner?

“Sure, I choose [to become a] member of BTS! Because I am an oppa mah. [I] want to be a world-class oppa,” Mo beams with an energetic declaration.

Surprisingly, if given a chance, he'd rather be a BTS member than be a kimchi master. Haha!

To aspiring kimchi makers and sellers, Mo’s main points to sustain the success of his kimchi business may be summarized as follows:
  • Start early in the day.
  • Get wisdom from your elders.
  • Do not shortchange your customers. Use fresh and healthy local ingredients.
  • Promote and educate buyers through creative branding.
  • Sell on reliable online venues.
  • Learn about K-culture and use it to your advantage. 


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