For the past five years, Gardena and the greater South Bay was blessed with the handmade artisan kimchi of Nam-Soon Kim, also known as Mrs. Kim, an octogenarian chef who made banchan from a humble strip mall space along Western Avenue. Kim is a second-generation Japan-born Korean woman who gained fame in Japan for selling banchan inside Tokyu Plaza department store in Tokyo’s Shibuya district for 12 years. Kim learned how to make banchan from her Korean-born mother and passed on the recipes to her daughter Young Ashworth, who is currently operating the store and producing all of the kimchi. Ashworth tells Eater that Miraku Kimchi will not renew its lease and will close on April 23, though she says she might figure out another way to produce and sell kimchi in the future.
Kim originally opened this storefront in 2017, distributing the kimchi to near Mitsuwa markets as well as Shin Sen Gumi restaurants around the South Bay. During the pandemic, the 86-year-old Kim relocated to South Korea and has been there since, while her 67-year-old daughter, Ashworth, who works as a Japanese-English translator by day, continued to operate the store.
Ashworth, who was also born in Japan, together with her mother, represents a small minority of ethnic Koreans who have lived in Japan since the early 1900s. Though their historical relationship has spanned thousands of years, Japan annexed the Korean peninsula in 1910 and subjugated its people until 1945 at the end of World War II (Japan didn’t officially relinquish its claim over Korea until 1952). The complexity of the relationship between Japan and Korea is illustrated in Min Jin Lee’s celebrated book Pachinko and its just-released television series on Apple TV.
Step into any big grocery store in Japan, and one will find numerous preparations of kimuchi, which is Japanese-style kimchi, exhibiting a deep passion for the traditional Korean dish. Typically, Korean kimchi is made with saeu-jeot (fermented shrimp), but Kim uses certain Japanese ingredients in her recipe, like mochi powder, seaweed bouillon, and scallop powder, writes Dakota Kim, who created a guide to LA banchan stores for LAist. The addition of more umami ingredients, plus smaller, thinner slices of napa cabbage, makes for a distinctly milder but still-compelling take on kimchi. Kim’s cucumber kimchi has fewer red chile flakes and features a crunch that resembles Japanese pickles. However, Miraku’s cubed radish kimchi, also known as kkakdugi, hews closer to a typical Korean preparation. In all, Miraku produced a small but stellar selection of banchan that locals would pick up to enjoy at home.
The sad news of Miraku’s closure comes as the lease comes up for renewal. Ashworth tells Eater that while she would love to keep the business going, as she has faithfully been doing through the pandemic, her mother’s relocation to South Korea and uncertain lease terms mean this chapter of Miraku will end. Given its popularity, Ashworth says she hopes to find another way to offer the kimchi again. Fans can keep in touch on Miraku’s Instagram for any future updates, but otherwise, go to the store in its final days and pick up a tub of fresh kimchi for a rare taste of Japanese and Korean flavors melded together.
Miraku Kimchi is located at 18535 S Western Ave, Gardena, CA 90248, and closes at 6 p.m., though supplies this week are limited.