Kim's Convenience stars pick their favorite episodes (and a recipe!) to celebrate season 4 debut
Kim’s Convenience, an award-winning Canadian sitcom about Mr. and Mrs. Kim (also more often and affectionately called “Appa” and “Umma,” the Korean words for Dad and Mom, respectively) and their grown children, Jung (Simu Liu) and Janet (Andrea Bang) is back for its fourth season, which is available April 1 on Netflix (joining the previous three seasons of the CBC comedy). Family sitcoms have long served as both a mirror to our own household insanity and a respite from the humdrum of our daily lives, which is why, especially during quarantine, they’ve become the familiarity we’ve craved, the comfort food of these uncertain times.
For those unfamiliar, the Kims are a Korean-Canadian family that owns Kim’s Convenience, a bustling corner store with a diverse clientele in Toronto. EW spoke to Appa (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and Umma (Jean Yoon) to find out which episodes to watch if you want to get to know the Kims before diving into the new season, and why food is the universal love language of all families:
Season 1, Episode 1: “Gay Discount”
Appa misguidedly starts offering customers a “gay discount” after innocently fumbling an exchange in his convenience store with two guys who are “the gay.” Umma hilariously stoops to duplicitous means to get Janet a “cool, Christian, Korean boyfriend.” We also meet Jung, who’s estranged from Appa and working at Handy Car Rental with his best friend Kimchee (Andrew Phung) and manager (Nicole Power).
PAUL SUN-HYUNG LEE: This episode is the perfect introduction to what Kim’s Convenience is about: It’s going to be a bit edgy; it’s gonna be funny; it’s going to talk about different subject matter than you’re usually used to with most sitcoms.
JEAN YOON: Umma’s commitment and ingenuity to find the cool Christian Korean boyfriend for Janet – it’s a very real thing. When I was young, more than once I would turn up for dinner at my parents’ place and discover that it was a setup. As outrageous as some of the moments are, they’re so very true.
LEE: I’m pretty sure that a lot of people were tuning in just to hate-watch it because it’s like, “Oh, it’s a show about Asians and they’re speaking with accents and this is going to be horrible,” but then they tune in and they say, “Oh my god, that’s just like my dad or my uncle or aunt.” At the end of the day, these relationships are very universal and very recognizable.
One of the most memorable scenes from the pilot is when Appa tries to figure out how Therese (Thom Allison), a drag queen, identifies. When he innocently asks Therese, “Why you do like this?” Therese replies, “It feels like me. Feels like home. Always has.”
LEE: That scene could’ve really been an after-school special kind of moment, but I think we struck that nice balance of believability, respect, and growth. When Therese comes in and he’s like, “Why do you do this?” it’s not out of a sense of malice. He’s genuinely curious and when he hears her response, [Appa] sees it’s not a choice, it’s who they are. One of the things I’m really proud of with Appa is his desire to change and grow.
Season 1, Episode 9: “Best Before”
Much to Janet’s horror, Appa tries to unload expired cans of ravioli in the store, refusing to believe that expiration dates are anything but a suggestion. Jung surprises Umma at the church bazaar and together they have a run-in with Umma’s frenemy, Mrs. Park (Uni Park).
YOON: When [Appa] and [Janet] are both sick, they’re so funny. Watching scenes between Paul and Andrea are such a delight, especially because their characters are so stubborn. I never know how they manage not to laugh. They’re like comedy gladiators. The other fun thing about that episode is that we see Umma in church, and church plays such a huge role for Korean families. I also have very distinct, indelible memories of how awkward it was to try and drop that dish of gimbap (seaweed rice roll), in exactly the right place so it would shatter in exactly the right way.
Season 2, Episode 12: “Appa’s First Text”
After Janet gives Appa her old smartphone, Appa tries in earnest to reach out via text to Jung, but Jung thinks he’s texting a beautiful bass player he met the night before.
LEE: I love the parallels of the scenes with Sugith [who plays Mr. Mehta] and he’s trying to guide me through what these texts mean as they’re intercut with Jung and Kimchee. I love that [Appa] and Jung sort of connect. This is that olive branch, even though on Jung’s part, it’s completely by accident. And, it’s a lovely father and son dynamic, just sharing a drink together. When I was younger, one of the things I always wanted to do with my dad was to sit and have a beer, just shoot the s—. So that for me was a nice fulfillment of a little personal dream that I had with my own dad.
Season 3, Episode 2: “Cutie Pie”
A flirtatious customer calls Appa a “cutie pie” in an online review of the store, prompting jealousy from Umma and cluelessness from Appa.
LEE: At the core of [the episode] is the relationship between Appa and Umma. They truly do love each other, but they’ve been together for so long, it’s not as spicy as it was in the beginning. It’s a really healthy relationship between a mature Asian couple, and to be able to show that side of an older Asian couple on primetime television is almost unheard of.
From galbi-jjim (braised short ribs) to gimbap, food plays an integral role in Kim’s Convenience.
YOON: For an immigrant family, food is the first gateway to cultural exchange and food in an Asian cultural context is basically about family. The dishes are made in such a way that you really can’t eat Korean food, like a proper Korean meal, alone. I also think part of the reason is that for a lot of us Koreans there’s a lot of shame around our food. When I was a girl my father would only eat kimchi on the weekends cause he was afraid that his colleagues were going to comment on how he smelled. And now we’re at a place as Koreans where nobody’s ashamed of it.
And there's one dish that Lee says pairs well with watching Kim’s Convenience, and is relatively easy to make at home with ingredients on hand.
LEE: This recipe speaks to when I was younger and wanted food like the other kids had. My mom didn’t cook Canadian food so I never got sandwiches. I got gimbap, which is really cool lunch now, but back in the ’80s it was like, “What are you eating? Did you get your lunch from the garbage?” I remember watching this episode with my wife and going, “That was like the sandwich I wanted growing up!” So here’s a North American recipe that I took from a Korean [chef Roy Choi], and it’s a perfect circle. It’s comfort food.
Fried Bologna Sandwich, adapted from chef Roy Choi (The Chef Show, Netflix)
2 slices of white bread
2 slices of bologna
2 slices of Swiss cheese (I use a medium cheddar, though)
Sliced dill pickles
Tabasco sauce (optional)
Butter both slices of bread from crust to crust.
Place slices of bologna on lightly oiled skillet, medium heat. To help keep the bologna from curling, place a cut in the meat using your spatula.
Brown bologna lightly on both sides. Once browned, remove from heat.
Place both slices of bread, butter-side down, on skillet.
Place cheese on one piece of bread. Once the bottoms of both pieces of bread are lightly browned, remove from heat.
Add browned bologna on top of the cheese, then add the pickle and mustard. If you desire, add mayo and a splash of Tabasco sauce, too.
Place second slice of browned bread on top and place the sandwich back on skillet, pressing down with a spatula for a few seconds. Flip sandwich and repeat.
Remove from heat and cut sandwich in half. Enjoy with a cold soda and plain chips!