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Why I'll never go to H-Mart

Needed some Korean food for a small dinner party I was throwing on Saturday and I went to Han Ah Reum on Mass Ave. They had everything I needed (marinated bulgogi - I don't eat meat but my guests do, so I needed someone else to prepare it for me!, gochujang, miso paste, and organic brown rice for guests to make ssam (lettuce-wrapped bulgogi and rice with a dollop of miso-y chili paste)). Grandmother was in the back of the store, on the floor making banchan. I wasn't surprised to see this at all...I remember my own grandma sitting on our kitchen floor, making kimchee with my mom. The owner couple was standing at the register relaxing and enjoying some sikhye (Korean sweet rice drink) and kimbop (Korean-style "sushi" roll) with another couple. When I went to check out, they offered me some of both and threw in a chap chae (cold noodle dish with veggies and beef) on the house, which my guests loved. These folks work really hard and I never see them chill out like that - I left the shop with a big smile on my face. The rumor of the new H Mart in Central Sq frightens me. I've been to H Mart a couple of times and each time, my head spins and not in a good way (kinda like how I feel when I get dragged to a Shaw's). The mom-and-pop shop might cost more than H Mart, but to me, the kind of experience I had on Saturday is well worth the few dollars more. Please continue patronizing whichever indie Korean/Asian market that you do. It is vital for their livelihood if they're going to survive H Mart's city presence.

Han Ah Reum, 2376 Mass Ave, Cambridge
Lotte Market, 297 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge
Reliable Market, 45 Union Square, Somerville
Mirim, 152 Harvard Avenue, Allston

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  1. Beautiful post, digga. I still feel a pang of guilt when I drive by Dae Han in Waltham. They closed a few months ago, and I'm sure that it was directly related to H Mart opening in Burlington. I didn't shop at Dae Han often, but did head to H Mart a few times when I was in the area instead of heading to Waltham Center. You've inspired me to stay small and local when I make my next bipimbap, which I plan on doing within the next couple of weeks.

    1. This confused me at first because H-Mart is actually part of a chain also known as Han Ah Reum. I wasn't familiar with a Han Ah Reum in the Boston area but it looks like you are referring to a store called J & K Han A Rum Oriental Market, just in case anyone else had the same confusion.

      3 Replies
      1. re: hckybg

        I also had this confusion, thanks for clarifying. I try never to go to Lotte because it's overpriced... I can't say I would go there instead of H-Mart if I were stuck in central.

        1. re: hckybg

          I love the tiny Han A Rum store -- it's the ultimate in mom-and-pop, as it's literally run by a mom and pop (the parents of the folks who run Hana Sushi next door). She makes her own banchan and sauces and will sell them out of a big bucket under the front counter. Only problem with this store is that they're only open when they're in the mood to be open. I've trekked down there many times for kimchi to find them closed during their posted business hours.... which is why I find myself at H-Mart.

          1. re: Boston_Otter

            Try poking your head in the resto ;-).

        2. with you all the way, digga. Thx for the post.

          1. I fear for the Reliable as well. Since the opening of the H-Mart in Burlington, their business has been down. An H-Mart in Central Square could be the last straw.

            There are so many things that these stores could do to be more "friendly" to the non-Asian shoppers. Things that could differentiate them from the larger markets, while building a new clientele. But the bottom line is, the H-Marts are syphoning off many of their traditional customers.

            10 Replies
            1. re: smtucker

              I live near Reliable and don't want to shop HMart...what can we as clients do to encourage them to help us with the merchandise? They are friendly enough at the cash registers but every time I have a question, everyone just looks at me blankly. Is it better to take in a print out with questions about ingredients and products?

              1. re: Madrid

                +1 to this. The last time I called there, the conversation was:
                "Hi, I'm looking for shishito peppers."
                "Red pepper?"
                "No, shishito peppers."
                "Kimchi?"
                "No, shishito. S-H-I...."
                "I get manager." .... "Yes?"
                "I'm looking for shishito peppers."
                "Rice paper?"
                "No, shishito...." *click* "Uh... thanks?"

                1. re: Boston_Otter

                  To be fair, I don't think many people know what a shishito pepper is, Asian or otherwise. I think I know what that pepper is and there is a Korean equivalent, but I don't know what the name is. They look like skinny green bell peppers, right? But the taste is totally different from a bell pepper. They are not spicy at all, but Koreans love to dip them raw into the same gochijang sauce that is used for ssam. There are many "Korean" vegetables that my mom is unable to give me the English translation for so I am not surprised by these anecdotes. Doesn't that add to the fun and mystery?!

                  The produce section at Reliable is pretty limited...I am pretty sure I have seen those peppers there (if I am right and they are the same thing as shishito). I've seen them called Italian-something-or-other pepper at the Arlington farmers' market.

                  And, of course, you can always use your fellow hounds! I welcome questions, though I am hardly a Korean food authority, but I can usually muddle my way through.

                  1. re: digga

                    Given their popularity in Korea, I figured if anyone knew what they were, it'd be a Korean market! I ended up finding them at Miso Market in Cambridge.

                    1. re: digga

                      I think your point about produce is a good one - H-Mart has some pretty awesome stuff that you cannot get anywhere else - it's the big draw for me.

                    2. re: Boston_Otter

                      Do your homework next time and figure out how to say shisito pepper in Korean ;-).

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        Apparently it's "kkwarigochu". I'll try saying that next time :)

                      2. re: Boston_Otter

                        That explains it...might as well go to HMart.

                      3. re: Madrid

                        Madrid, I have the greatest luck in the store around 2:30 or 3pm. The teenagers who know nothing about food but who do speak English are in the store, and the older women who don't know English but know the food are too.

                        I have brought pictures of completed dishes, of ingredients, English words on paper... and sometimes, just sometimes, I have gotten help.

                        You know you have hit the jackpot when you happen to be in the store at the same time as a 30-something Korean woman, who drives a Lexus, and they know English AND the food. Sometimes, they make suggestions about ingredients or preparations that their mothers made. I treasure those encounters.

                        1. re: smtucker

                          oh man I hit it once, when a woman explained to me what the leaves I was looking at were...sesame leave, she said, and she was great. I'll go mid afternoon, thanks so much. we didn't even know they have a parking lot and either take the bus or park out front, so I don't know about the lexus. but I do love it when fellow shoppers help out.
                          digga, I may send you some questions. thanks to you as well.

                    3. Heck, I miss the little Korean place that used to be at the Fresh Pond rotary... they had BY FAR the best panchan of any of the local mom and pops. Decor was a bit lacking...

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        That place was awesome, the "I *heart* NY Oriental Market"! On the other end of the demolished shack that housed Fresh Pond Seafood, right? And it had this scary video store and ghetto shoe store too, right? Every timed it rained the gravel pit that was the entire premise would flood like crazy...

                        1. re: tatsu

                          they had/made the best ginger panchan, ditto their shredded daikon.

                      2. Thanks for the post, digga. I am a fanatical shop-local type, but have had the worst experiences at Reliable, including having my bags searched without notice or apology before forking over $150. Customer service is not their strength, so it's especially hard to imagine their surviving a face-off with H-Mart.