Tuesday, July 7, 2009

not amish, but asian specialties at wheaton's h mart

Speaking of markets: the following is a guest post from Cary H., reviewing H Mart, the Asian supermarket at 12015 Georgia Avenue in Wheaton. If you've got something to say about the life and times of East County, JUTP wants to publish it. Send any contributions to justupthepike at gmail dot com.

Photo courtesy of H Mart.

I too love to shop at Han Ah Reum, but it has changed its name to H Mart. A few observations to add. Like the more upscale Trader Joe's, H Mart is having demo cooks show various ways to use ingredients that customers might be unfamiliar with (and when it's Asian vegetables, that is quite a few). The word I would choose is "delectable." You can come back several times, which is not true in Trader Joe's.

Sometimes the store features "evening madness," when various categories of food are half price! Long lines then, but still nothing to touch the ones at Costco or Sam's Club—and the H Mart charges no membership fee.

Even at full price, the fresh produce is priced well below other food stores' prices, and the citrus fruit is beyond compare. If you want any exotic fresh fish you can name, it is going to be the only place in the county to get same (except for its competitor Korean markets, perhaps). The fresh seafood is in the back, and watching the fish-slinging could be our version of Seattle's Pike Place Market. Never for home consumption have I seen fish so large.

The little bakery in the front is temptation itself. But single slices and small containers of cookies can be had as well as entire loaves and cakes. They don't taste like American bakery items. They seem somehow lighter—hard to describe—just try every item once.

If you get there before supper hour is over, there are about a dozen freshly made meals to choose from in the tiny food bar (mostly tall stools, maybe one small table). Worth getting there early, because most items don't get put out for take-home. Those that do get put out are fantastic as bases for quick weekday meals, however. The various flavors of tofu squares are almost addictive, and you can get them mild or spicy. The same goes for the containers of seafood soup, which some people like to go buy every payday. One can take such a container and extend it with chicken or "chicken" broth, dried or frozen seafood (the dried octopus strips are good enough for snacking!), and dried mushrooms, all of which reconstitute in a hurry.

You could take the resulting large pot of soup and divide into three pots—one as is, one to which you add a curry paste, and one that you make into a cream soup. The frozen seafood in varying-sized batches of small creatures (including mussels, oysters, squid and hake) is perfect for augmenting any cream- or tomato-based soup or chicken broth and quickly making it elegant and more nutritious. The variety could make folks think you cooked three separate soups, though you did nothing of the kind. Meat-eaters will find many kinds of refrigerated fresh meats, some exotic.

If your tastes run to exotic flavors of frozen desserts, go to the H Mart for delights such as lychee ice cream, surrounded by even-more-unusual flavors and variety than most chain groceries. But the tea and coffee section is not at all weak on the Asian cookies and sweet snacks—you could spend a day deciding and end up with a minimum of three items . . . Go ahead and try the unfamiliar, one might prove your future favorite.

If you don't have your home set up for entertaining, the center section of the store has everything you need, from fans and humidifiers to various types of cookers, special ones for rice, and pots and pans and platters, along with beautiful dishes, complete sets, sometimes handpainted. If you have long hair and are tired of paying $25 for hand-turned pairs of hairsticks, you can get an incredible deal on beautifully painted chopsticks and end up paying as low as one to two dollars a pair!

The personnel is a mixture of Korean and Hispanic. They clearly try to speak one another's language and get along as though they were all of the same background. Finally, if you have a complaint, go up to the service desk and the store manager will make it right!

If you've got something to say about the life and times of East County, JUTP wants to publish it. Send any contributions to justupthepike at gmail dot com.

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