Foodie Friday: A Trip To H Mart

I travel in unique circles. I have different circles for my varied interests. The smallest of these circles currently only has three members, me, my friend Kim and my niece Audrey. Both women share my love for Asian food and both of them are particularly enamored with all things Korean. I am really on the fringes of the Korean thing – they are both all in.

Kim lives here and we have both been waiting for the newest Houston area H Mart to open in the suburb of Katy. I waited for the crowds to die down and then paid a visit this week. It was a delight to all the senses and I can’t wait to go back.

H Mart

H Mart began in 1982 as Ha Ah Reum in Woodside, New York. The name translates to “One Arm Full of Groceries” but that is not all you will find at H Mart. Whether it is typical in their home countries or not, most Asian grocery stores here are also unique cultural markets. From restaurants to little boutique shops within the larger store, a trip to the grocery store can be an fun family event. I love that I can eat authentic and delicious food, shop for cute little trinkets and then buy food for cooking experiments at home all in one stop.

Founded with the mission of bringing the freshest food at the best price, H Mart also delivers a unique glimpse into another culture. The stores are clean, neatly and well stocked with rows upon rows of colorful and mysteriously wonderful products.

What Is This?

I don’t shop at Asian markets like I do a traditionally American grocery store. I can’t because I don’t know what 99% of the stuff is nor how to use it. But that doesn’t diminish the fun. I don’t mind looking like a clueless white woman, no need to act cool, just pull out the phone and start googling some of this stuff up and see what I might want to try.

Often you can tell what the product is by the packaging or a price sign. This is just a partial view of the entire isle of seaweed. Who knew? So many different colorful packages. Are they all different? Just different brands of the same thing or is each one really unique? I don’t know but I was intrigued and mesmerized by the selection.

The SPAM isle was also impressive. Not only do they have American SPAM but they have other brands of similar canned meats. I really wanted to try one, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I grew up with SPAM and my Chinese-Hawaiian relations, whoever they are, probably eat it…but still, it is SPAM. Maybe next time.

Pink is a big color in Asian products. Which is fun for me as I am on quite the pink kick lately. These flavored waters are packaged in a plastic “can.” I love that unique concept and of course the packaging makes it nearly irresistible.

Need a pink acrylic dish scrubber? This item is crocheted. Crochet cannot be produced by machine, so someone somewhere is cranked these out by the thousands. I didn’t buy one for that reason, but the cute factor is very high.

Picture from hmart.com

Who doesn’t need a pink rice cooker? I found pink pots and pans, dishes, and cooking utensils. I love it!

Meat, Fish & Produce and More

Interestingly I didn’t take pictures of the fresh food – guess I need to go back! The produce section was huge and filled with some familiar, some not so recognizable items. I wasn’t shopping for a recipe so I didn’t buy any produce this time. The fish market was amazing. Beautiful whole, fresh fish that you select then they will clean it and prepare it as you desire. This area of the store smelled like the ocean; not a fishy smell but like salt water and air. They have an amazing array of fresh meat, poultry and pork as well as frozen items such as duck, rabbit, quail, and squab.

I was intrigued by beautifully arranged trays of sliced beef just waiting to be cooked in their traditional dish Shabu Shabu. See the sliced beef on the left side of second image?

Shabu Shabu image from hmart.com

Those are paper thin slices of beef that will be cooked by individual diners in the pot of hot broth. Vegetables and dipping sauces round out the flavor fest. What a fun meal to prepare and eat in a group.I found the recipes pages of their website and discovered a delightful selection of traditional Korean foods as well as their unique take on American items such as corn dogs. The two things that really caught my eye were the Shabu Shabu as I had seen the beautifully cut meat artfully arranged on fan shaped trays in the store. They came in all sizes; I bought a small one not knowing what I was going to do with it. I just couldn’t resist.

The other recipe that I have to try is Kimbap.

Kimbap image from hmart.com

Looks like sushi rolls doesn’t it? In a way it is. Inside the seaweed and rice are long strips of cooked egg, the traditional cooked beef, bibimap, SPAM, cucumber, carrots and kimchi (a spicy fermented cabbage). I found a use for that can of SPAM I’ve been itching to buy!

The Complete Experience

Part of the original vision for H Mart was to provide all the food and reasonable prices but also to have a clean and friendly environment. Again, they succeeded in this area as well. Cultural differences mean that not all people behave in the same way. What might seem reserved or aloof to an American is simply normal behavior for a person from a different country and culture. I accept that difference and don’t ever expect a specific behavior from other people. That said, I found everyone from the folks stocking the shelves to the cashiers delightfully polite and friendly. There were shoppers from all backgrounds, some as lost as I felt, but we were all curious and enjoying learning new things. I loved it and will certainly go back.

If you have the chance to go to a grocery store that is culturally different from you, I urge you to go. Food is such a personal and intimate part of every person’s life. If you want to get to know a culture, try their food.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Until Monday…look up, embrace today and go have some fun!

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