Once upon a time there was this cute little Korean grocery store run by a sweet little middle aged Korean Ahjuma. Our beloved Uri market!!
This ahjuma was the best!!!! Every time we went shopping she would give us free drinks and kimbab. She would let us go into the kitchen part of the store and pick out her latest creation. She gave the kids (2 of them at the time, number three hadn’t been born yet) suckers and snacks!! She just loved us!!! I was unique in the fact that I could speak and cook Korean and my two little ones could also speak Korean!! It was the best of times!!
But then the sky clouded and grew dark……….and like all mom and pop stores (or Korean ahjuma stores) a giant corporation named H Mart moved into the region and took over, shutting down all of these little stores 4 cities around, and our beloved Uri Market closed FOREVER!!!!! We still miss her, even though it has been 4 years.
Time heals all wounds, though there are scars left behind, and we now shop at the evil corporation because their prices are good…..and well, we just don’t have a choice. So time to head out to the store.
Since it is winter in Michigan, we bundled up. You are probably thinking it is because it is 20 degrees out with 3-4 inches of snow……
Nope that isn’t it at all. It is because H mart keeps the temperature set down around 50 or 60 degrees. Sometimes when shopping there my hands and feet actually hurt.
After a 40ish minute drive and passing through 8 cities, we finally arrived!! (I miss how close our other grocery used to be WAHHHHH!!)
Going to the Korean Grocery is always an event, and since it happens once a month now, it is a 2 hour event that usually culminates in us spending time in their tiny restaurant, which has delicious Korean choices, but has just priced themselves out for our budget ($20 for two people, think of the groceries we can buy and we can just make the food ourselves!). We tend to eat clean, but sometimes I turn a blind eye. So one of the things I allow us to get for a treat is Cuttlefish snacks!!
Yes, they are actually made with minced squid! I can’t tell you why these are so yummy. This brand has the best crunch! It actually takes willpower to stop eating them. 9 servings in that bag and we considered buying another because they were a dollar off.
Tae’s favorite part is the frozen and live fish area.
This section is pretty cool. We live in Michigan, so aside from fresh lake fish, we do not have an outlet to get fresh ocean fish. The majority of the fish they sell is wild caught and brought in by truck same day. There are some varieties of farmed fish, but that isn’t the normal.
It also allows us to pick from a variety of wild caught crustaceans, octopus and squid. (I’m having a hard time eating octopus after seeing how intelligent they are in many videos, mostly I just feel sad when I see a tray of baby octopuses, in fact I couldn’t even take a picture of them) With our smaller Korean groceries this was never an option.
One of the things I like about going shopping here, is it allows me to recreate a feeling of being back in Korea. For 2 hours that’s where I am. I really miss my sister-in-law and her husband, my Korean parents who left us a short while ago and are in Heaven, and the country people. (City people are very cold) and for this space of time, I can imagine being back there. That is probably why I loved our little grocery so much and the ahjuma who ran it. I really felt like home. I digress…back to shopping!!
Another really special treat that we tend to pick up is this!!!
You don’t see it……hold on, let me zoom in.
Young coconuts!!! I don’t know about the rest of the country, but these little water filled gems are usually $3.99 and more at our grocery stores. At H-mart they run $1.99 or less. This is a special treat. I know how good these are for health so I will splurge on this item. Tae begs us to get one every time we go. He sometimes drives the whole way home with the coconut in his hands impatiently waiting to get home to open it. First thing when we get home and unpack all the groceries????
I crack open the coconut, pop in on of our stainless steel straws (LOVE THESE!!) We each get a sip, and he drinks the rest. The taste is amazing and sweet!
Another area we tend to splurge is my daughter’s favorite. Ice cream!!
Korean ice cream is made with some weird ingredients. They tend to be fruit flavors and totally artificial in flavor such as the banana milk shakes, and sweetened red bean paste. They love coffee flavored ice cream, and a melon flavor. One of our favorite ice cream treats is a fish shaped cake with red bean and vanilla ice cream in it.
This image actually has some of our favorite flavors, (I was very tempted to get the honey flavored cake). They didn’t have the fish shaped cake, but instead had an oval one that just wouldn’t be as much fun to eat, I think. The kids love biting the head off of the fish and the red bean is so much like innards. Next time!!
In our American grocery stores I tend to shop the outside isles, (EXCEPT when it comes to Oreos!!) because most of the food in the aisles is processed. In the Korean grocery I can almost get away with it as well.
The veggie section is huge!!
This area takes up about half the store and has some interesting items. Dragon fruit, Durian, a myriad of Chinese vegetables and our Korean radish and cabbage. Besides some of the fun items, we buy our rice here, we usually purchase 2-4 of the 40# bags, which will last for a month or two. We have sticker shock every time we buy rice now. Rice has doubled in price in the 20 years my husband and I have been married. It now runs $30 a bag!! One item we don’t buy, but that Tae has recently discovered the taste of, is Spam. Korean’s LOVE spam and spam loves Korean cooking. It is a match made in heaven!! Really it is delicious in kimchi chigea!! I had to tell Tae to put it back on the shelf. He was totally disappointed!
I have also learned that label reading is a must when we go shopping, with my oldest having severe food allergies, but especially at the Korean market. After bringing home one new snack to try out and eating some, I decided to read the label.
We won’t be buying those again!!!! And they are not the only item. There is a sweet radish which also comes with a warning label usually, though this brand didn’t have the warning, so you better know what those chemicals are. (notice that little product of China label, it is getting harder to find products of Korea on these shelves!!!) So besides some treats we like, there are those that need to be avoided or I have to learn to make them from scratch. (Upcoming recipe for these sweet radishes which are key to kimbab!!)
So after 2 hours and $180 we were able to stock up for another month. We checked out, headed home, unloaded and put away our groceries. We were ready for a month of Korean cooking and kimchi making. Then suddenly my husband groaned and pulled out the little bit of fish sauce he had left to turn our case of cabbage into kimchi. This store will never replace the little Korean grocery store I grew up in ( as my Korean alter ego developed and grew) but it is an okay replacement. Anyway it looks like we may be going back much sooner than we thought. Yay!!! More cuttlefish snacks!