Try an Ethnic Grocery Store

My friend, Mel has been bugging me to check out a giant Korean grocery store that she frequents. It’s an hour’s drive from me but one day we decided to make a day of it and see what all the fuss was about.

I am no great chef, but I love Asian-inspired food. Occasionally, I get adventurous and try a few recipes. The thing about Asian food though is you really need the special ingredients like fish and oyster sauces, Jasmine and sushi rices, and the wonderful exotic veggies to get the flavor right.

We were totally hooked once we entered the store. It’s called H Mart (who knows why), but it’s got everything you need and all the stuff you didn’t know you needed. They had fresh and dried fish, squid, octopi, and all manner of seafood I never knew existed. There were also some unappetizing items like pork blood and giant live clams that looked like something Godzilla coughed up.

The exotic fruits and vegetables were my favorites. Luckily, they were giving away samples. I tried a small melon with flesh as sweet as an apple but soft as a peach. I forgot the name but I took one home along with the biggest grapes I’ve ever seen.

hmart

We bought some hot mustard powder for the next time we have egg rolls, a chili garlic paste that looked promising, and adzuki and mung beans which I hope I can sprout.

It’s a shame H Mart is so far, but at least now I know where to go when I’m hunting for exotic spices, mushrooms, or fish.

A lot of people don’t realize this, but ethnic grocery stores tend to have cheaper prices than the same items bought in a non-ethnic store. The only bad thing about H Mart is that nearly everything was in Korean, though sometimes it had a few words of English so you knew what you were buying.

It was great fun just to stroll the aisles. I know we’ll be going back.

We got hungry while we were there so we tried out their restaurant. Wow! Aside from the fact that it was complicated to actually get your food–everything was delicious.  You ordered from one location but to get your food you had to find it from among several kitchens. (Sorry I didn’t snap a picture, but all thoughts of photography fled when we saw our food.)

Do you like Asian food? What’s your favorite dish? Mongolian beef is the current reigning favorite.

Have you ever tried an ethnic grocery store?

 

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18 Comments

  1. Angela Brown

    I’very been to an H Mart before. I was mostly lost but excited at all the interesting food and fragrances. I’ve also gone to an African grocery store. Same experience there.

    A lot of realizing what I don’t know lol!

    • Angela: I’ve been to an African market before too. It was next to an Indian restaurant/market and my office pals and I had to see what kind of exotic fruits and vegetables they had there.

      We’re so used to homogenized fruits and vegetables that when you come up to something that’s as pure as its parent they seem almost alien.

  2. Sounds like a fun and delicious adventure! I sometimes get intimidated in stores like that if I’m the only one speaking English, so sometimes I tend to avoid shopping at them 🙂

    betty

    • Betty: It is a little intimidating but everyone there was quite helpful and spoke excellent English–except for the cooks in the various kitchens. They go by the number on the food menu and that’s how they know what to make.

  3. Britain is packed with ethnic shops but concentrated in certain areas. So where East Europeans have settled – fruit picking areas for example you have many Polish shops. In other areas you have Caribbean or Asian shops.
    I went to a Korean restaurant in New York in 1982. The food must have been good. I still remember it – the experience at least. So many courses!

    • Mike: Asian restaurants are more apt to give you several courses. We’ve kind of lost that art in the West.

      We like to go to Vietnamese noodle restaurants locally. We used to have a great Thai place but they went out of business.

  4. JackieBCentralTexas

    Maria happy to hear that you found a culinary gem to open up your cooking pleasure, too bad it is so far from home but that is the price we pay for living where it is not quite so crowded by actual people.

    We have different ethnic stores in Austin, have not been to one of them ever.

    For me chicken fried rice, beef pepper steak and stir fried green beans are favorites along with the occasional bowl of egg drop soup.

    I will say that cooking the oriental dishes is intimidating (lots of steps to most) but eating them makes up for it.

    • Jackie: It’s a planned day trip if we want to hit H Mart. Too far otherwise. Asian food is intimidating to me too. I have many Chinese, Thai and Japanese cookbooks but I’ve only ever attempted the simplest recipes.

  5. My local store for Asian cuisine is Mike’s Seafood & Oriental Market. I like to shop there if I’m making an Asian dish, simply because the “Ethnic” section of Walmart and Publix just don’t have that one thing you need, like that right kind of noodles. 🙂

    • Diane: True. The typical American grocery store might have a smattering of ethnic spices but only the most popular spill over. The true ethnic stores carry a gazillion varieties. I wouldn’t know one from another unless I see a regular customer pick something.

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