If you’re unfamiliar with H Mart, allow me to back up a second: It’s the largest Asian grocery chain in the country. The “H” stands for han ah reum, a Korean expression that translates roughly to “one arm full of groceries.” But the allure of H Mart goes beyond groceries. Inside each store, you can typically find a bakery, mini beauty department, rows of kitchenware, and a buzzing food hall crowded with people dining and waiting for their order to be called.
Despite being labeled a Korean supermarket, this iconic shopping destination attracts many members of the AAPI community, due to its broad assortment of fresh produce, quality proteins, noodles, snacks, condiments, and much more.
What should you toss in your cart on your first (or your 100th!) visit? I spoke with H Mart employees to find out what their favorite groceries are and how they use them. Their picks are varied and versatile! Let’s take a look.
1. Wang Hot Flavor Udon Noodle Soup, $4.99 for 15.16 ounces
This product can be found in the refrigerated noodle section and comes with udon noodles, a soup base, and a dried vegetable packet. The employee I spoke with said she loves this product because it’s a great base for adding in various vegetables and proteins such as beef, tofu, mushrooms, scallions, and eggs.
2. Hansang Perilla Seed Oil, $8.99 for 10.82 ounces
Among the towering shelves of oils and vinegars, you’ll find perilla seed oil, which is essential for one interviewee I spoke with. She uses it daily, adding it to sautéed vegetables and stir-fries, drizzling it over rice, and setting it out as a dipping sauce. Perilla oil is a vegetable oil made from the seeds of the perilla plant. It has an earthy, nutty flavor and aroma, and can be used to enhance a variety of dishes.
3. Pulmuone Soon Tofu, $2.49 for 11 ounces
When it comes to tofu, H Mart has plenty to choose from. One particular employee pointed me in the direction of this tube of extra-soft tofu, which he uses to make soondubu jjigae, a spicy and flavorful Korean tofu stew. The package suggests adding it to smoothies and desserts, but (adding my own two cents) I can’t help but recommend the viral soondubu ramen trend. Yum!
4. Surasang Citron Tea with Honey Ginger, $9.99 for 20.46 ounces
One employee said she always has a jar of this citron tea at home. It’s soothing and perfectly tangy. She mostly drinks it hot but said it’s also nice to enjoy cold with ice in the summer. Korean citron tea, or yuja tea, is made with yuja-cheong, a citron marmalade. To make the tea, simply add about 1 tablespoon of the marmalade to a cup of hot water.
5. Pork Belly, $8.99 per pound
H Mart has a wide and unrivaled selection of meats. An employee restocking some beautiful thin-sliced beef said matter-of-factly that all the meats were his favorite. He claimed, “You can’t find meat like this anywhere else.” And I have to agree with him. He recently made suyuk (boiled pork belly) which he likes to eat with kimchi.
6. Lao Gan Ma Hot Pot Spice, $4.99 for one package
There are a lot of hot pot broth bases to choose from, but one employee I spoke with recommends this version from Lao Gan Ma. You boil the spice paste package in water and add whatever proteins and vegetables you like, such as sliced beef, pork belly, tofu, fish balls, dumplings, enoki, watercress, and more. This product is by the same brand that makes the well-known chili crisp created by China’s famous godmother, Tao Huabi.
7. JFC Kimchi Furikake, $4.99 for 1.7 ounces
The label might say “rice seasoning,” but the possibilities are endless. One staff member reported that, besides rice, he sprinkles this over eggs, ramen, vegetables, and soups. It has a sweet and spicy flavor and adds a satisfying crunch to just about anything.
8. Fried Round Gluten, $2.99 for 1.76 ounces
Another employee led me to this bag of fried round gluten, saying it was a versatile ingredient to add to vegetable stir-fry meals, hot pots, and stews. If you’re planning on using these in a stir-fry, it’s important to soak the gluten balls first to soften them. If you’re adding them to a soup or stew, you can skip the soaking step, as they will soften while they cook in the hot liquid. This vegetarian item can be found in the refrigerated section.
9. Shaoxing Cooking Wine, $2.99 for 25.3 ounces
For one staff member, Shaoxing wine is not only a favorite grocery item, but also a pantry staple that serves many functions, appearing in wonton and dumpling fillings, stir-fry meals, and braised dishes such as hong shao yu (braised fish). Shaoxing wine is a rice wine that comes from the city of Shaoxing situated in China’s Zhejiang province. It’s dark-amber in color and adds a deep, complex flavor to any dish, marinade, or sauce.
10. Gochugaru Red Pepper Powder, $3.99 for 8 ounces
One employee told me he uses gochugaru (red pepper powder) in a lot of his cooking, saying, “It adds flavor and good color.” He adds it to soups, kimchi, and rice cakes, and uses it to season both hot and cold vegetables.