Every two weeks, Hooni Kim is elbow-deep in a vermilion kimchi seasoning. The chef and owner of lauded Danji and now-closed Hanjan has taken everything that appears at the center of a traditional Korean meal — all the shareable banchan like barbecued meats, seasoned veggies, fermented kimchi — and packaged them as standalone, takeout items at his new venture, the Little Banchan Shop, at 5-28 49th Avenue, between Fifth Street and Vernon Boulevard, in Long Island City. On Saturday at 11 a.m, doors opened to such fanfare, afternoon visitors including the famous Maangchi, a maven of YouTube cookery, found racks wiped clean.
Kim is far from the first business owner to specialize in banchan in a city heavy with Korean immigrants since the 1980s. But the sleek Little Banchan Shop — and the eight-table, tasting-menu-only Meju set to open in September inside — is the latest move from Hooni Kim, a pioneer in NYC’s modern Korean dining scene whose last restaurant, Hanjan, opened nine years ago. As for his catalog of 70 banchan, it’s all about the ingredients: from the organic and gluten-free foundational seasoning elements that he directly imports from a farm in Korea to high-quality, hormone- and preservative-free meats that are humanely raised by some of the top purveyors in the industry.
On a quiet street in Long Island City, just a couple hundred feet from Casa Enrique, a round white sign with whimsical child-like letters spell out “Little Banchan Shop.” Inside, it’s bright and airy. Open refrigerated shelves brim with pouches and jars of colorful banchan neatly arranged all along the left and right walls. A large window on the back wall looks out into the production kitchen, where a cook may be draining watercress.
“All Korean families have banchan in our fridge,” he says. “So for us, if you have a hot bowl of rice, you have a meal.” Banchan can last days, sometimes months, and Korean people mix up their meals from the dozen or more dishes they have at home. He wants to share that domestic aspect of Korean food with those who would typically find the cuisine at restaurants. So he figured that going in on “banchan culture,” particularly in Long Island City — where there is no banchan shop despite a significant Korean demographic (including Kim, himself) — would allow more New Yorkers to enjoy Korean food at home, while also saving western Queens residents a trek to Flushing.
To provide a more nuanced look at kimchi consumption at home, the Little Banchan Shop’s refrigerated kimchi section is divided into two categories: just-ripe and aged. For the freshly ripe batch — which Koreans would eat right away — Kim and his staff would have first laid their hands on their 150-pound stockpile of organic Norwich Meadows Farm Napa cabbage anywhere between one and six weeks ago, depending on temperature and humidity. Meanwhile, the mature kimchi, typically used for cooking dishes like bokkembap, stews, or pancakes, would have remained fermenting in Little Banchan Shop’s walk-in kimchi fridge longer, letting the naturally occurring lactobacillus do its thing: develop a deeper, funkier flavored kimchi.
Kimchi aside, the base of Korean seasoning comes down to three fermented jangs: doenjang (soybean paste), ganjang (soy sauce), and gochujang. For almost all of his banchan, Kim carries out the rare feat of directly importing organic jangs from Jookjangyeon, a farm on the eastern coast of South Korea.
“The flavor is just so deep,” he says. The texture, too, is richer than the mass-produced brands.
The jangs, used in some combination, fuel the umami of his sautéed zucchini rounds, stir-fried anchovies, and moomalengi, a crunchy, spicy radish injected with his own flair: an anchovy sauce infused with Sichuan pepper leaves for a “fermented oomph.”
With meats sourced from D’Artagnan, DeBragga, and Niman Ranch, the barbecue section includes popular marinated meats like bulgogi and galbi that customers can cook at home as well as meal sets. The meats also fortify the soups. In the winter, Kim will offer cups of milky white seolleontang broth that’s been boiled for 30 hours, to go. He typically sips this broth out of his thermos on cold mornings.
Korean food in New York has come a long way since Kim opened Danji in 2010. It was one of the first chef-owned Korean restaurants in NYC, where he applied his skills from Daniel to Korean food and offered fun, shareable plates and gateway dishes like bulgogi sliders — “back then, it was like, ‘Bulgogi? What the hell is that?’” he says.
Meanwhile, in the Korean residential enclaves of Flushing and Fort Lee, shops like Hansol and supermarkets like Hanyang and H Mart served banchan’s greatest hits. As kimchi started to fill up shelves at Food Emporium and Whole Foods, and white-dominated Michelin and James Beard institutions started taking note of Korean cuisine, the owners of Dokebi and Little Dokebi launched Kimchee Market in Greenpoint in 2015. In 2021, Smorgasburg and farmers market circuit regular Kate Kook converted a Bay Ridge storefront into Kimchi Kooks, offering small-batch kimchi and other banchan.
Kim now joins this small group of modern banchan shop owners with his own personal touch.
“This shop is everything that I like,” Kim says. “It’s the way I eat. It’s what I like to eat — with tricks I’ve picked up along the way.”
Little Banchan Shop is open every day from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.