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Help me! Amazing Korean grocery store in my 'hood. I don't know what to buy!

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I've travelled extensively and always pop into the local grocery stores. Now I've moved into a neighborhood with a great Korean grocery store and I have no idea what to buy? I thought it would be like walking into a Chinese or Japanese grocery store, but no.....

It's selection of meats, fish, kimchi, vegetables, and noodles... and I have NO idea what to buy. My knowledge of Korean cuisine is limited to bi bim bap, and bulgogi.

Help me learn about Korean cuisine! Please and thank you!

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  1. This affordable guide http://www.amazon.com/Asian-Grocery-S... helps me
    shop at the H-Mart that opened the next town over. I still find it difficult, though. There's very little labeling in English, and the small number of employees on the floor speak little or no English. It helps to be bold and ask other shoppers if they speak English. I got a great plaintain tutorial from a fellow shopper who was from Sierra Leone.

    I once e-mailed H-Mart headquarters to suggest they have a monthly guided tour for English-only shoppers, which I think would lead to us buying more items there. Never got a reply.

    1 Reply
    1. re: greygarious

      In fact, I am lucky. I live in Toronto - very multi-cultural city. the grocery store isn't situated in a [particularly Korean enclave and the store has everything laid out in English and Korean. Staff members are bilingual. I just don't know anything about Korean food, what to make, etc.... The selection is literally mind boggling! :)

    2. Buy bulgolgi marinade sauce in the jar- its awesome for any protein you use it on. Rice cakes are super easy to make and a great chewy texture, often they have fresh noodles similar to an udon that are great for a soup or stirfry after cooked with veggies. If you like spicy foods try a few of the kimchee and hot sauce condiments. The frozen section will have interesting dumplings and buns for quick meals.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Ttrockwood

        I had rice cakes once at Momofuku, but I have no idea how to cook them - pan fry so they are crispy? Do they have to be steamed first?

        1. re: Apple

          Just stir-fry. Frozen ones will take longer than fresh. They won't get crispy so much as tender.

      2. Here's a multi-step idea:

        Start here:
        http://web.archive.org/web/2008091202...
        [it's an archived page, so the layout is old/bad. just scroll down].

        Find an English description that looks interesting, then use Google Images to search using the Korean name.

        Screen shot the pic of what you'd like to buy /make.
        Then show the pic to someone at your new Korean Grocery store. They won't have to worry about language [and neither will you!] but they can point out the ingredients you'd need.

        It's "shoot and point" shopping : )

        1. My favorites: fresh or frozen pork belly (great for quick-browning and covering with sticky lemon-honey sauce, grilling, or braising); radishes with the greens still attached (greens are delicious cooked quickly in fat or in a soy sauce-based braise with the radishes); pollack roe (nice on its own over rice or mixed into simple risotto); unsweetened bottles of tea; quail eggs (nice in soy sauce braises but a pain to prepare); crab meat (nice in korean seafood "pancakes" or in risotto); almost any (ideally local or in-store) packaged panchan (pickle) that looks good, from cabbage to greens to squid; spicy squid preparations in general; locally-prepared soups if available (often in tall plastic containers like tofu pudding comes in); maklee (low-alcohol rice drink, make sure it's Korean-made as all the American-made ones I've had are pretty rough); mushrooms, ginger, almost any produce that looks good; when in doubt, if it looks interesting, buy it and try it over rice! Enjoy!

          2 Replies
          1. re: Sarah Perry

            I'd for sure start with gojuchang.

            It's a delicious and versatile condiment.

            1. re: Sarah Perry

              Oh Sarah Perry - that sounds so marvelous! You've given me some good ideas. thank you!

            2. My top two items from Korean grocery stores: gochujang (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gochujang) and doenjang (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doenjang), which formed the basis for many Korean dips, stews and soups.

              1. < My knowledge of Korean cuisine is limited to bi bim bap, and bulgogi. >

                Then, buy those ingredients. :) Start with what you like.

                Doenjang (Korean soy bean paste) is a good ingredient to get.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doenjang

                I bought a stone bowl more than a year ago. So you can always get a Dolsot:

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8451...

                1. I am with ChemicalKinetics. I would approach the food based on what you know. Start out with bibimpab and bulgogi, but get to know more.

                  Perhaps go out to a Korean restaurant and try a few more dishes. Ask on your local CH board about which Korean restos specialize in which dishes, and order based on that. Then you will gain a better familiarity of what the dishes are supposed to look like, and the which taste you are trying to achieve. Then look at recipes online, in books, and in youtube videos, and ask here for prep tips. Then head to the market. Otherwise you are going to end up with jars and bottles of stuff that you really won't know what to do with. A lot of Korean groceries have a prepared-dish table or deli table with in house kimpab, tteokbokki, chap jae, and other items sitting there for sale for a few dollars. They also have pre-marinated meats. Unless this is an exceptional place, once you figure out what you are doing as a neophyte Korean chef, you will be able to reproduce better versions of these on your own. Getting these to try for the first time wouldn't hurt, though.

                  Do you know how to prepare Korean white rice well? Do you know your ban chan? Easy to make a simple K-meal at home and bulk it up with ban chan from the store.

                  Have fun!

                  1. You might want to look up some recipes and start there. I used Maangchi videos on YouTube to ge me started. Her recipes often include pictures and descriptions of ingredients so you know what to buy. I made dukbogi and japjae (sorry bout the spellin) and they were both great according to may friend who lived in Korea.

                    1. Thanks to everyone for the suggestions... here's where I am going!

                      http://www.galleriasm.com:8888/#

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Apple

                        Korean supermarkets are very ahead in term of multimedia.

                      2. Is it an H-Mart? If so the one near me has some great prepped dishes that are easy to make and a great introduction. Pre-marinated fresh Bulgogi, seafood soups in the fresh seafood dept., etc. Also you can try dozens of kimchi and panchan. They usually have 5-10 types set out to sample. Also they usually have 4-5 sample stations spread throughout the store with various products.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: JMF

                          Some H Marts have so many sample stations that you can literally eat lunch while you shop.

                          1. re: C. Hamster

                            I just got back from H Mart and I sampled my way around the store. I had around 5-6 types of panchan, several dumplings, fish, chicken... Then bought three 1.5 lb. lobsters at $4.99 lb.