I keep seeing folks on my social media feeds posting about the new ready-to-eat kimbap from Trader Joe's, and I have to admit, I've been curious about trying it. After seeing this review from Sarah Ahn—who runs "Ahnest Kitchen"—and, more importantly, from her mom, Nam Soon Ahn (who Sarah describes as having been "born and raised in Korea to one of the best, well-known home cooks in Incheon (my Grandma)"), I'm convinced that I should definitely give it a try.
Along with the short video review, she posted:
Like I said in the video many times, it's not bad 😂. Keep in mind that this is a vegan/vegetarian kimbap so you can't compare it to kimbap with animal protein (beef, tuna, spam, fish cakes, etc). Trader Joe's kimbap relies a lot on its sweetness to flavor it, which comes heavily from the seasoned burdock root. Overall rating: 7.8/10
She also posted a longer review on her website, where she shares her mom's recipes. Here's an excerpt:
Surprisingly, we liked their kimbap! It's certainly not the best kimbap I've ever had (my Mom's kimbap is really good — shameless plug), but we think it's actually better than the rolls you can buy at the Korean grocery store.
Trader Joe's kimbap is particularly sweet, but in a good way that allows you to enjoy each bite. Most kimbap, at least the ones I have tried, are less sweet and much more savory since it has some sort of animal protein (fish cakes, beef, tuna, spam, etc.) Their kimbap is heavy in burdock root that's seasoned in soy sauce, so expect a pretty sweet, soy sauce flavor.
Some additional criticism. There's too much rice in some rolls and this becomes problematic when it's accompanied by too little of vegetables in the middle. Lots of premade kimbap that are sold like this, including the ones from Korean markets, use this tactic because it saves them money.
Rice is cheaper than vegetables, so they load up on the rice to fill up the roll. If you notice the kimbap made by my Mom (below), you can see her kimbap is inverted: she uses minimal rice and goes heavy on the vegetables. That's because it's made with mother's love (I sound like I am being sarcastic, but I'm not lol) vs. factory/grocery store-made that's trying to make profit at minimal costs.
Thus, my ranking order goes: Mom's kimbap > Trader Joe's kimbap > Korean grocery store kimbap
Despite these criticisms, we're pleasantly surprised, and we can confidently recommend for others to try. But again… it's certainly not the best. My mom's is. 😉 Mom's kimbap recipe coming soon. Overall rating: 7.8/10
If you aren't familiar with kimbap, Holly Ford from Beyond Kimchi provides a primer:
Kimbap, sometimes spelled gimbap, translates to "seaweed and rice" in Korean. It is a popular Korean rice dish, much like bibimbap. Often enjoyed as street food, kimbap is frequently consumed alongside tteokbokki.
This meal-on-the-go seaweed roll is made from cooked white rice and variety of vegetables, fish and bulgogi beef or spicy pork that are rolled in gim (김) – dried seaweed sheets. You can also find kimchi as a filling in kimbap.
Kimbap might seem like a labor intensive food, due to all the ingredients you have to prepare separately. However, it is not as bad as you think, and the outcome is rewarding. And it's inexpensive and presents beautiful.
Many think kimbap and sushi might be the same, but there is a big difference in terms of the use of rice and the fillings.
In a Japanese sushi, the rice is seasoned with vinegar and sugar while in a kimbap is mixed with sesame oil and salt. People often call it as Korean sushi or Korean sushi roll, but we prefer it to be called by the Korean name, "kimbap (김밥) or Gimbap."
To learn more about Korean food, go check out some of Nam Soon Ahn's recipes—Sarah explains that "as a former restaurant owner, all of her recipes are authentic, delicious, and leave you wanting more. It's as Korean-Korean as it gets." Sounds amazing!