Asian Supermarket tour

There’s nothing like stepping into the supermarket and having the pungent yet intriguing smell of durian bodyslam your nostrils. Even better, when you accidentally knock down the ramen tower at the front of the store and find yourself throwing the discarded ramen into your cart; partially out of guilt but also as an excuse to stock up on cup ramen. These types of experiences were a weekly occurrence for me throughout my life. Trips to the nearest Asian supermarket in Koreatown felt like mini-vacation trips; each visit gave me the chance to indulge and bask in familiar foods that brought me familiarity and comfort. As an H-Mart enthusiast from birth, I feel pride and anticipation while seeing my peers discover the places of my childhood. The Asian supermarket experience is a rite of passage into understanding the world of Asian American culture. Considering dropping by your local H-Mart or 99 Ranch but have no idea where to start or how to shop smart? No need to fear, Liz is here. I present my multi-step guide to shopping at an Asian supermarket.

I cannot stress this first rule enough. Please be respectful and open-minded before visiting. Although unfamiliar and foreign to Americans, the food and items stocked in Asian supermarkets are accustomed to Asian taste. This being said, while it may be a culture shock for you to see glass jars of pickled shrimp and bamboo brooms, these items are simply a part of our culture. To read more about the significance of Asian American Supermarkets, I recommend this article.

Now onto the good stuff. Ever had Korean BBQ? Hotpot? Yakiniku? If not, you are not alone. Asian Supermarkets specialize in various cuts of meat that allow you to experience Asian barbeque and hotpot at your own home. Along with meats, the seafood section is well varied and fresh; sushi-grade fish to make homemade rolls, king crab legs, fish balls- fish paste rolled into balls that are commonly eaten in a hot pot or are deep-fried. The selections are endless.

Liz’s personal recommendation: Pork belly, also known as 삼겹살 in Korean, is a classic Korean BBQ choice and my favorite cut of meat. My family grills the pork on a tabletop electric grill, before dipping it in a sesame salt dip and wrapping it with lettuce, kimchi, and rice. Not a fan of pork? Try the marinated beef short ribs (갈비) or thinly sliced sirloin. As for seafood, I purchase sushi-grade salmon and masago- fish roe- and make sushi or poke at home. I also enjoy Korean style fish cakes (어묵) made out of surimi, wheat flour, and seasonings. Although I am not the biggest fan of seafood, I find comfort in boiling fish cakes with a hearty dashi broth during cold weather.

Instant noodles. An essential part of Asian cuisine, as well as a favorite for students on a budget. The variety of instant noodles offered fills an entire aisle on its own and features ramen from Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, China, and South Asia. From ramen in bulk to cup ramen, you will be stocked for life.

Liz’s personal recommendation: I consider myself a ramen connoisseur. With this in mind, I have a selection of recurring favorites. For Korean ramen, I enjoy Jin ramen, Samyang Carbonara Fire noodles, Nongshim Chapagetti Noodles (Korean-Chinese instant savory black bean noodles), and Ottogi’s Sesame ramen. Korean ramen tends to be spicier than most instant ramen, so be careful if you have a low spice tolerance. As for Japanese instant ramen, I prefer Nissin Curry Cup Ramen, Nissin UFO Sosu Yakisoba, and the Nissin RAOH Tonkotsu Flavored ramen. I am not as well versed with the other regions, but out of the ones I have tried, I recommend Indomie Mi Goreng, MAMA ramen in Green Curry, and Tseng Scallion Noodles With Sichuan Pepper. Instant noodles can be more interesting than you think and Asian ramen is proof.

Most newcomers make a beeline for this aisle and I completely understand. The famous Asian snack aisle offers intriguing and unique chips, cookies, and treats that catch the eye far more than the vegetable aisle. Many cultures in Asia utilize flavors of sesame, cuttlefish and shrimp, and fruits to adhere to Asian taste. Have fun with the never-ending choices and choose a snack that sticks out to you. There’s no harm in trying.

Liz’s personal recommendation: Growing up in a strict household, I was only allowed the luxury of snacks every few months. For years now, my picks remain the same. I recommend O! Karto Chips in both Chilli Chilli and Cream Cheese, Ppushu Ppushu (the literal translation means ‘break, break’ to symbolize the process of breaking the dried ramen and shaking it with the seasoning packet. Sounds crazy until you try it), Banana Kick, Nongshim Sweet Potato Snack, and any kind of Korean corn chip. For cookies and candies, my go-to’s are Meloni (the melon equivalent of an Oreo), Ramune gummies, and Yanggaeng (try this one if you are feeling adventurous. Yanggaeng is a sweet red bean jelly stick, popular in both Korea and Japan. I’ve been obsessed with it since I was a child).

I scream, you scream, something about ice cream? The ice cream aisle is quite beautiful. Unfamiliar flavors, creative packaging, and slightly elevated prices combine to produce a delicious product, even to the biggest ice cream hater. Take your time and observe the variety of mochi flavors, boba cream, sprite flavored popsicles, and matcha soft serve cones. Trust me, it’s exactly as enchanting as it sounds.

Liz’s personal recommendation: Americans have ice cream sandwiches, we have cute fish-shaped ice cream bread. Yes, you heard me. Known in Korea as Binngrae Samanco, the treat consists of a fish shaped wafer coating filled with a light lining of sweet red bean paste and ice cream. My favorite flavor is strawberry, but every flavor pleases my tastebuds. My fridge always has a tub of matcha ice cream, taro ice cream, and either black sugar milk tea ice cream bars or matcha ice cream mochi. My mom recommends the Maeda En Black Sesame ice cream.

On your way out, you will pass an in-store bakery. Obviously, you need to make one last stop before saying goodbye. Asian Bakeries are adorable, convenient, and fresh. Offering delicate cakes, pastries, breads, croquettes, buns, sandwiches, fried goods, and tarts, it’s safe to say there is little to no self-control when choosing items to purchase. The process is neat and simple. Grab a lining tray and tongs, before moving along the line to grab the items you want. When you are ready to check out your drool-worthy treats, hand your tray to the cashier and pay at the counter. Alongside the bakery, there is often a built-in cafe to accompany your food. Snag a latte for the trip back home, you’ll need a wake-up call to prevent you from putting too many irresistible desserts on your tray.

Liz’s personal recommendation: I am a victim to the Asian Bakery curse; my wallet absolutely adores the temptation of pastries. My favorites would be the uber-rich egg tarts, vegetable croquettes, creamy custard-filled buns, crispy melonpan (メロンパン), strawberry milk bread, and soboro buns. I order these alongside an iced vanilla latte or a refreshing yogurt smoothie.

For more Liz recommendations, check out the vlog below!

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