Just back from the mayhem (in a good way!) at the grand opening of H-Mart. Look forward to hear what others thought; but my wife and I were pretty blown away by the vast quantity and quality of all food/grocery/staple types. The crowds were immense and imagine this weekend will be super crazy; but highly recommend to all foodies for everything from meats, veggies, fruits, seafoods, prepared stuff, spices, condiments, noodles of all types, etc, etc., etc. One of the workers carving sashimi tuna from the actual whole fish gave us a special deal on toro for only $15/lb (compared to $30/lb after the initial opening festivities). Amazing quality across the board and prices are generally quite good (most meats, veggies, and fruits are a fraction of, say, Whole Foods). There was a nice selection of Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and even American offerings along with the huge selections of the expected Korean and Japanese (although no bottled yuzu juice or higher end ponzu) musts. Expect to park far away during the rush!!! If you don't see what you want then definitely tell the manager: they are looking to please big time! As far as Asian markets in the greater Boston area this is quite simply the place to go.
I posted a fairly long report on this thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/639048. I saw the tuna and was sorely tempted.
One thing that I will never forget was the Korean performance group, dressed up in what seemed to me to be Korean traditional outfits and playing what seemed to me might be traditional instruments, giving their rendition of God Bless America in front of the store. (Gongs, wailing recorder-like instrument, beating drum, like no version of God Bless America you have ever heard or probably even imagined.)
Oh, and for anyone who does brave the grand opening crowds, after you leave the store hold onto your receipt and go to the tent in the parking lot. If you spend more than $50 you get a freebie item (what depends on how much you spend).
The selection is great. The prices are a bit high but there are good specials to be found. This market is similar to the Mitsuwa Japanese market in size (albeit a bit smaller) and scope.
Later in the afternoon, H-Mart also had a clown making balloons for kids and a cotton candy machine. There was plenty of samples to go around from curry to potstickers to sashimi tuna to calpico yogurt drink.
It is wonderful! And crazy busy - i'd avoid the opening weekend rush unless you enjoy that kind of scene (and have plenty of time and patience). I enjoy that kind of scene immensely.
I went this morning with my Korean mom, who was drooling over the huge seafood selection (deal - live blue crabs for 1.49/lb!). The produce is beautiful, bountiful, and mostly inexpensive - look for the specials (4 scallions for $1, string beans at .79/lb, enoki mushrooms .50/package, english cucumbers .79/ea). Some specialty Korean/Japanese items were considerably more expensive, but worth it to most homesick Koreans. And some specialty items were cheap, cheap - dduk for $2/lb, and big bunches of fresh kkaetnip for 50 cents! The fish and produce sections are large (triple the size of a typical grocery store?), there's also a big meat section, and a sizable prepared food section (mostly side dishes/banchan). The rest of the store is divided fairly equally into the following: Korean ingredients (dried beans, seaweed, ground peppers, course salts, pastes, noodles etc), Korean/Japanese convenience foods and mixes (calypso drinks, curry mixes, pancake mixes), Korean/Japanese frozen foods (dumplings, mochi ice cream), Misc int'l ingredients and convenience foods (Sriracha for 1.99 on sale, rice paper wrappers, indian spice mixes), American ingredients and convenience foods (sugar, chips, etc), and housewares (cleaning supplies, stone pots, comforters, expensive rice cookers). There was a tiny, tiny selection of bento supplies - nothing special or interesting.
There are a couple fancy furniture sellers, a Hello Kitty shop, and a handbag shop. The food court is a bit cramped, with an Indian place, a Japanese place, and three Korean - one is traditional and serves mostly soup, one is Korean-style Chinese, and one is a Cho-cho's offshoot (from the Porter Exchange). We got takeout from the traditional Korean place, it was fine, nothing special. Next time I will skip it or try the Korean-style Chinese. There is also a fancy bakery which was pricey - looks so delicious, though.
Compared to the local Korean markets (I usually shop at Reliable): the non-sale prices are about the same (maybe slightly less for some items, and sale items are cheap!), the selection is considerably larger, it's significantly cleaner, but way less convenient for me. I will try really hard not to shift too much of my Korean food shopping from the local Korean markets to H-Mart because I don't want the local guys to go out of business. I'm worried for them. I'd rather shift my Shaw's budget to H-Mart and keep all the Korean markets around!.
Compared to Super88 in Allston/Brighton (during it's heyday, not in it's current sad state): H-Mart is more upscale (smells good!), has a larger produce selection but slightly more expensive, obviously way less Chinese items and more Korean (Super88 always had a pathetic Korean/Japanese selection), there are fewer cheap-o fun housewares but more super expensive appliances, and finally, the food court is way less interesting than Super88's.
Compared to the H-Marts I've been to in NJ and Philadelphia, Burlington seems to have more international food - mostly Japanese (lots!), Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian. There seems to be a smaller selection of Korean items (like marinated meats, side dishes, dumplings, seaweed, hot sauce, etc) than in the other stores, which makes sense for the Boston area.
If you live in the area, I think it's possible to do 90% of your regular grocery shopping at H-Mart (especially if you normally buy produce/fish/meat, and cook basic food from scratch). The quality is very good and it's a good value. If you are Korean (or crave Korean food), it's worth a long drive to stock up. Some convenience items and Korean specialty items might cost you, though.
"I will try really hard not to shift too much of my Korean food shopping from the local Korean markets to H-Mart because I don't want the local guys to go out of business. I'm worried for them. I'd rather shift my Shaw's budget to H-Mart and keep all the Korean markets around!."
Very thoughtful - I hope everyone will follow suit. I'd hate to see the smaller shops suffer.
Went there first time, it's a big zoo. A dozen or so police details were helping on directing traffic. Heard the neighboring Market Basket got mad at H-Mart's customers for parking in its lot.
A lot of food there. Picked up some baby-head sized Fuji apples, dry persimmons, very-well marbled short ribs (Gaabi $4.99lb), belt fish (from Korea, really good even though pricey at $10lb), small whole flounder @$2.49lb was not great more like sole, prob mis-labeled. etc.
Wanted to get some moon-cakes, at $9 a box but was told a mountain pile was sold out yesterday within an hour.
Way too crowded, esp. in the food court area. People eating cha chiang mian off the shopping cart. LOL.
Chines buns were good, so was the Masala chicken from the Indian stand (the poor guy, no one was buying except us)
Will check it out again when things are not so crazy.
We ate lunch at the Indian Curry stand as well, primarily because of the lack of line. Finding a table was ridiculously hard. The food at the Indian stall was better than average mall food court Indian, but not as good as the Indian at the Burlington Mall food court (which is better than many sit-down restaurants in the area.) My daughter had sushi and gyoza from the Japanese stall. She liked it.
Tous Les Jours was out of red bean paste rolls when we got there. So sad.
Make sure if you go that you bring along the coupon flyer from the Boston Globe. There were some great deals, including a dozen free eggs if you spend $30. We picked up some giant oyster mushrooms (which seemed to be everywhere we turned), chinese chives, fresh bamboo shoots, and a variety of non-asian produce. Also a few fun frozen items (chinese pork buns, vegetable gyoza, mochi ice cream, little yogurt probiotic drinks), and a bunch of staples (chicken, ground beef, marinated beef, milk, OJ, juice, etc.) So really, just our regular grocery shopping plus some asian specialty items. It came to $140, which is about what I normally spend at Roche Bros. We got almost everything we would normally buy (except for cereal - not much in the way of American breakfast items) and bought some extras that we wouldn't usually get. I can't wait for the crowds to die down, though. it's a madhouse.
Thanks so much for the report!! I can't wait to visit - sounds like I'd want to bring a sleeping bag and take up residence there, hehe...