New Scots: Eddie Kim, poet and owner of Glasgow deli Gomo Kimchi

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For Seattle-born Eddie Kim, running Gomo Kimchi is about connecting with both the community and his past, and Glasgow has proven the perfect place to set up shop

As told to Olivia Simpson

I grew up in a suburb north of Seattle, Washington, but when I was around eight years old, we moved to a small town in Alaska for four years. We were 30 miles above the Arctic Circle, surrounded by arctic tundra and the only real way in and out of town was by airplane. At the time, it was a huge culture shock, but I think very fondly of it looking back, and I think it shaped me as a person.

I’ve moved around quite a bit as an adult too. I moved back to Alaska for graduate school, then taught English in Korea where I met my partner. She’s Scottish, and moved back to Glasgow to study nursing. We were long distance for a while, with me living in Korea and then Germany, before I eventually moved to Glasgow in December 2019.

two large baskets of Korean cabbage sit under a sign saying 'Gomo Kimchi'

Two large mixing bowls filled with Korean soup and stew
Left: Gomo Kimchi’s pork belly kimchi jjigae (stew), one of their most popular dishes. Right: Gomo Kimchi vegan kimchi guk (soup), deep and wholesome

Jars of kimchi with 'Gomo Kimchi' labels on the lids

People often ask me what I think of Glasgow. Actually, there are a lot similarities to Seattle: the wet weather, abundance of green spaces and close access to breath-taking scenery are maybe the most obvious. However, where Glaswegians are typically outgoing and gregarious, Seattle people are notoriously insular. We call it the ‘Seattle Freeze’, and while I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, there’s definitely some truth to it!

My dad moved from Korea to St Louis, Missouri around 1973. Compared to how hard that transition must have been, my move to Scotland has been easy. They had a huge language barrier, couldn’t communicate easily with friends and family back home, and had almost no familiarity with the US.

My family background has influenced me in many ways. My parents ran lots of businesses when I was growing up, including a teriyaki restaurant, burger joints and an Americana restaurant. I think when you grow up in and around kitchens, you have a lot of experiences that are unique to that environment. My friend who had a similar upbringing calls us ‘restaurant babies’. Now that I run my own place, I can appreciate how hard they worked even more.

I had toyed with the notion of opening a kimchi business for a while. Essentially, kimchi is fermented cabbage, not super different from sauerkraut. Every family’s kimchi tastes a little different, and everyone thinks theirs is the best. I realised whilst having a meal with my family that only the older generations knew how to make kimchi and if the younger generation didn’t learn, then one day those skills would disappear from our family. That would have been a huge loss, since it’s such an important food to the Korean diaspora.

The ingredients for kimchi weren’t available in the US when my family moved. They only managed to make their first batch because my grandmother gave them some starter sauce. My business is a preservation not of a family recipe, but of a family story: by bringing kimchi to a new country, my story is echoing that of my parents.

It was possible to buy kimchi in Glasgow before we started Gomo Kimchi, but it didn’t have that homemade flavour and texture that I was craving. I had learned to make kimchi from my gomo (paternal aunt) and made some to give to family and friends, who seemed to really enjoy it. Korean food was becoming increasingly popular in Glasgow at the time, but it took the pandemic for me to really get started on the business.

a bright yellow store front with 'Gomo Kimchi' written at the top and 'Korean Comfort Food, Deli & Poetry Library" written by the door
The deli’s storefront at 138 Allison Street in Govanhill, Glasgow
An elderly woman sitting at a table, smiling at the camera and ready to eat
The ‘Gomo’ in Gomo Kimchi, ready to eat

We started out doing markets and pop ups, where we sold kimchi and some other dishes. At our current premises on Allison Street, we have a small menu, mainly Korean comfort foods which I grew up eating, but the focus of the business is very much the kimchi itself.

We now offer a vegan kimchi. This is in addition to our more traditional recipe, which includes fish sauce. I was skeptical about the vegan version at first, but I’m very happy with it. In a blind taste test with non-vegan options, I think it would perform well.

I don’t consider myself a chef. Poetry was my first passion: I studied it at both undergraduate and masters level and you can read some examples of my work here and here. For me, cooking and writing are both about sharing a piece of yourself with the community, and both have ways of saying the unsayable. It’s common in a lot of Asian cultures to ask people “Have you eaten?” when you see them. It’s a way of acknowledging someone’s basic needs, of showing care and consideration, as well as welcoming them. When I was a kid, our family didn’t always express love directly; instead, we shared food. We’ve worked to get better at expressing it out loud, but the love language of my family and my community remains preparing and sharing food.

a man wearing a baseball cap and glasses reads a book, underneath a banner that says 'Gomo Kimchi'

The creative community in Glasgow is very supportive. There’s a strong DIY sensibility here, which I deeply appreciate, and different creative endeavours really try to support and uplift each other. I think in other places with a well-established arts community, it’s more about the scene than actually making things, which isn’t the case here. Other small businesses locally have been very helpful. It’s been very heartwarming.

I want Gomo Kimchi to have a positive impact on the community. Sometimes, a new business can come into an area and feel detached from it, or even parasitic. I really don’t want Gomo Kimchi to be that way; I want us to be fully engaged in the community. For example, we have a poetry library. I want the space to be like a clubhouse, where people can come and read and enjoy the food. I want to explore this idea and push it further in the future.

My lifestyle picks

Eating and Drinking I love The Real Wan in Cathcart which offers dishes from south west China – it gets shouted out a lot, but rightfully so! Little Hoi An is lovely for Vietnamese food, A. Pastry is fantastic for vegan/veggie delights (also, Agne is a wonderful person), and Two Eight Seven Bakery is phenomenal. There’s always a line outside of Two Eight Seven’s door, and for good reason!

There’s lots of great places near our shop in Govanhill. The Rose Reilly is a great pub, and they make excellent coffee at Café Buena Vida, Short Long Black and Cibo. I need to shout out Frankie’s in Shawlands, too. I don’t get a chance to go as much as I’d like, but the people are beautifully welcoming and really take the time to get to know their regulars and treat you like a friend from the first visit.

To get inspired I really enjoy making the most of Glasgow’s green spaces by taking a walk through Pollock Park or Queens Park. The view across Glasgow and out to the Campsies from the Queens Park hill is so beautiful.

Shopping Mount Florida Books is a tiny little bookshop, but it’s very well curated and makes great use of the space. Category Is and Burning House Books are also excellent bookshops, and nice and handy for our shop, too.

Arts and culture The people behind Glasgow Zine Library are lovely and we’ve done a couple of events in collaboration with them. They have a fantastic, DIY approach, with a little bit of a ‘stick it to the man’ attitude, too!

Travels We love going to Loch Lomond because it’s so easily accessible from Glasgow and the scenery is gorgeous. For me, the Isle of Skye is one of the most enchanting places on earth (weather permitting!). Arran is lovely too, especially because it’s close enough for a day trip, and it has really good food and drink producers, like Arran whisky. If you’re on the island, make sure to grab a sandwich from the Sandwich Station in Lochranza!

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