Grocery

The Best Things to Buy at H Mart, America's Favorite Korean Grocery Store

Kimchi, gochujang, and more.

by:
January 31, 2022
Photo by Nandaro/Wikimedia Commons

I noticed there was a shift.

I started seeing Shin Ramyun everywhere in New York City—drugstores, supermarkets, and even corner bodegas. In a local dollar store in Washington Heights, I watched a girl rush out of line (“Will you save my spot?”) to grab a couple packs of the stuff, flashing a smile at me as she returned with the red squares, “I’m obsessed with these.”

I grew up with this Korean brand of instant ramen. It’s so iconic in Korean pop culture that, if there’s ever a food scene in a television drama, more often than not the character is eating Shin Ramyun out of this ramen pot. (Watch the members of K-pop sensation Girls’ Generation slurp Shin Ramyun for a whole 6-minute television segment.) To think that this grocery-store staple has become so ubiquitous would’ve been unfathomable back in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, especially where I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.

But then again, so much has changed since then.

In 2004, H Mart came to Duluth, Georgia, and it was a sign that Korean immigrants had truly arrived. In that same year, the Italian restaurant where I had my first date with an old girlfriend became a Korean fried chicken restaurant, and the local Blockbuster turned into a Korean bakery. Koreans were finally establishing their own community in the predominately white Georgia suburbs of Fulton County—not just a place for them to shop for groceries, but also a communal space for them to see friends, neighbors, and fellow Koreans.

H Mart is to Korean immigrants in America as Patel Brothers is to Indian immigrants in America: a grocery store, of course, but also a marker of a moment in time and space, when a cultural need for belonging gave way to venture capital.

In the time since H Mart first opened back in 1982, Sandra Oh has won an Emmy, the word gochujang has been added to the dictionary, and Yakult has flown off the shelves because of a Netflix film based on a novel written by a Korean-American writer. Boy band BTS has taken over the world. Like these cultural moments, the ubiquity of H Mart, too, is a sign that Korean food is on its way to becoming mainstream.

And so, with unbridled excitement in my Korean-American heart, I offer you my veritable list of the very best things to buy at H Mart, America's most-beloved Korean grocery store.


What to Buy at H Mart

Photo by Amazon
Photo by H Mart

1. Short-grain white rice

It’s the first thing you’ll see when you walk in: a wall of short-grain rice options. My favorite brand is Kokuho Rose sushi rice—but just go for the cheapest. Fun fact: The packaging will all look Japanese, but that’s because most Korean rice is, historically, Japanese.

2. Kimchi

Contrary to popular belief, most Koreans don’t actually make their own kimchi. It might be a seasonal activity for certain home cooks, but many just buy their everyday stash at H Mart. Even my mother! That's because H Mart makes perfectly good kimchi, as long as you wait till it ferments before eating (usually a couple weeks in the fridge, or if you're really impatient, overnight on the counter). There are many varieties: kkakduki ("Country Style Cubed Radish Kimchi," the label might read), chonggak (young "bachelor" radish), and regular cabbage kimchi (with or without oysters).

Photo by Amazon
Photo by H Mart

3. Instant ramen

Again, Shin Ramyun is the go-to, but I often get Shin Ramyun Black, which has thicker noodles and an extra seolleongtang bone broth soup mix packet that adds nice depth. Or sometimes I opt for Ichiban (beef flavor) because it's what my mom would cook for my brother and me after long days at the pool. There are so many varieties and brands of instant noodles at H Mart that are worth exploring. My cousin Becky goes to H Mart just to see what's new on the shelf: These days you can get instant jjajangmyeon, jjamppong, and even carbonara-inspired ramen.

4. Roasted seaweed snack

Also known as gim, seaweed snack is Korean-style nori that's been brushed with sesame oil, salted, then roasted. We ate it as a side dish growing up, or as a vehicle for leftover rice balls in the morning. As an adult, I've learned to incorporate it into my recipes because I find that it adds a nuanced salinity that salt or soy alone can't provide. You'll find it in my avocado toast, deviled eggs, and even scrambled eggs. The Great Wall of Gim at H Mart is proof enough of this pantry item's lasting importance in the Korean diet.

The gim selection at H Mart takes up nearly an entire aisle. Photo by Eric Kim

5. Korean snacks, chips & candies

My brother shops at H Mart for one thing and for one thing alone: the snacks. See below for a few of our personal favorites growing up: Goraebab, which translates to "whale food," is an umami-packed tomato-flavored chip that's dangerously good (1); Shrimp Flavored Cracker is a classic, and exactly what it sounds like (2); Sweet Potato Snack is a lovely sweet cracker studded with black sesame seeds (3); and Onion Flavored Rings are a cleaner-tasting Funyun (4).

1. Goraebab
2. Shrimp Flavored Cracker
3. Sweet Potato Snack
4. Onion Flavored Rings Photo by H Mart

"Also, I never make it out without at least one thing of Hi-Chew," Software Engineer Micki Balder tells me.

6. Korean ice cream

Korea has great ice cream, too. I'm particularly fond of the Samanco cake cone ice cream sandwiches filled with vanilla ice cream and sweet red bean (there's also a strawberry version that I sometimes prefer). Another favorite is Melona, a soft, creamy ice pop flavored with honeydew. You can stock up on green tea and red bean ice cream at H Mart, as well—and don't forget to leave without those little mochi ice cream bites.

5. Pantry staples & specialty ingredients (depending on who's asking)

H Mart is where I come to stock my Korean pantry: sesame oil, soy sauce, gochujang (red pepper paste), gochugaru (red pepper powder), black bean paste, tofu, and miso. They have a wide selection of Japanese pickles, as well, which are lovely to keep on hand. “I like to get containers of pickled ginger from the fridge section," Lifestyle Writer Ella Quittner says. "I eat it as a snack, sometimes dipped in a bit of soy."

Senior Social Media Manager Connor Bower buys those "large, teabag-like packets filled with dried anchovies, kelp, and shiitake mushrooms used to make anchovy stock two cups at a time." Many a Korean recipe starts with anchovy stock, including tteokbokki, gyeranjjim, and budae jjigae. "It's been so useful to have on hand whenever I want to make one dish," Connor admits, "as I'm not sure I'd be able to go through large quantities of the anchovies and kelp by myself."

A miso for all of my personalities. Photo by Eric Kim

"I love buying the golden curry packets, fish balls, and fish sauce," Account Manager Rebekah Daniels chimes in.

"I got amazing mushroom soy sauce when I was in Thailand," VP of Finance Victoria Maynard adds.

"Sweet chili garlic sauce," Micki waxes lyrical. "That stuff tastes good on everything, but I especially like it lacquered on fish."

9. Really fresh seafood

Speaking of fish, H Mart's fish selection is very good. I love getting the individual salmon fillets—always center cut, but sometimes, if it's available, I get the cheek and roast it low and slow. Tastes incredible with fresh white rice.

"I get my blue crabs from there," says Sales Director Lizzie Greene. "They also have pre-packaged crabs with their roe and fat saved for making crab stock or butter."

10. Bones for bone broth

One of my favorite Korean dishes is the aforementioned seolleongtang, a milky bone broth made from brisket and difficult-to-find cuts of beef, namely knee, leg, and shin bones. Head to the H Mart freezer section, where they sell these bones, labeled "Beef Bones," either in large plastic bags or packaged like this.

H Mart is to Korean immigrants in America as Patel Brothers is to Indian immigrants in America: a grocery store, of course, but also a marker of a moment in time and space, when a cultural need for belonging gave way to venture capital.

11. Fruits & vegetables

My cousins and I joke that H Mart produce is twice the size of regular fruits and vegetables (but it really is, and often cheaper too). Plus, H Mart is a great source for the harder-to-find varieties like dragonfruit, jackfruit, papaya, durian, Korean Concord grapes, melons, and Asian pear. So don't forget to stock up on fresh fruit while you're there, and if you are one of those go-getters who plans to make their own kimchi at home, this is where you can buy all of that fresh napa cabbage and the FATTEST scallions you've ever seen.

Fancy prepackaged tropical fruit, I love you. Photo by Eric Kim
Just two or three of these, paired with a bowl of white rice, and you've got yourself a whole meal. Photo by Eric Kim

12. Prepared banchan

There's a whole wall of prepared foods and banchan, or small Korean side dishes, such as: pickled garlic, fried anchovies, spicy octopus and squid, spinach, black beans, lotus root, perilla leaf, seaweed salad, brined cod roe, and even little Korean-style omelets and pancakes, or jeon.

13. Frozen dumplings

Think: Trader Joe's dumplings, but way better. And more variety, too: Korean mandoo, Japanese gyoza, Chinese baos and shumai, etc.

Photo by H Mart

14. Home goods

Though this seems less intuitive, H Mart's kitchen selection is pretty extensive. It's where nearly every newly minted Korean adult will go to buy a couple of key items for a starter pack to life: a rice cooker and this lightweight plated aluminum pot (which brings water to a boil way faster than a regular pot, making it ideal for instant ramen). Also, stock up on pretty chopsticks, spoons, forks, and little rice and soup bowls. Or if you're like me and secretly love kawaii things, don't miss THIS totally cute cat tea cup!

Meow. Photo by Eric Kim

More selections from the Food52 editors:

15. Frozen finger food destined for the air fryer

Yawnnn. What’s that sound? It's your air fryer, zapping up yet another batch of frozen french fries. You both deserve excitement, and excitement – in this scenario – is encased in the frozen snack aisle. Open one glass door, there’s the sweeties: steamed hoppang (red bean buns), hotteok (sweet cinnamon pancakes), and pre-roasted goguma (Korean sweet potato). Their savory next door neighbors will be mozzarella-filled corn dogs, different jeon (pancakes), and crispy seaweed rolls. In a move that makes any evangelist proud, most of these foods will come with package instructions on how to cook in the air fryer. 

16. Baking ingredients

In need of Blue Star mochiko flour? Ground sesame seeds? Canned red bean paste? Or how about ube condensed milk and coconut milk powder? From all the mochi in the world, soboro-ppang, and ube pie – it matters not what's on deck for your next Asian baking project because you'll find what you need in Hmart's shockingly thorough baking aisle.

17. Tteok (Korean rice cakes)

Perhaps this is a no-brainer, but a trip to Hmart is incomplete without procuring a bag of tteok. There's bound to be a few different brands offering identical cuts of tteokbokki-terrific cylinders, and flat moons at the beckon call for a bowl of cozy ttukguk. As long as the bag you choose is cryovac-sealed, giant, and the size and cut suits your needs, then I think any brand is fine. Tip: lightly char your tteok and dip them in a little honey. Quickest/squidgiest/cutest snack ever.

18. High-quality instant coffee mix

If that reads like an oxymoron, hear me out. Korean instant coffee mixes make weekday mornings a breeze. I love how it's mild, a bit treacly, and it's always a delight to see a small sprinkle of dry milk powder transform into creamy silky bliss. Mix into a cup of hot water and that's it. Look for the yellow boxes labeled “Maxim” - in my opinion, it’s the best brand. In the summer, I opt for Kanu iced Americano coffee mix.

19. Fizzy, milky, refreshing drinks

More wonder walls. Should I seek an escape from my usual coffee, I head to the one lined with non alcoholic drinks. My love for banana milk will never fade no matter how time flies. Another childhood heirloom is Milkis, where delicate carbonation meets a lightly sweet milky base in a whimsical can. I’ll grab a bottle of roasted barley tea or the Bacchus energy drink when I’m looking for a soothing elixir.

20. All the alcohol to chase your (insert emotion here) away

And HMart would be remiss without a larder of alcoholic drinks – it’s a pretty well-known fact South Korea has a massive drinking culture. On a big lit up shelf, there’s a ton of soju and makgeolli (the fruity flavors are nice, and won’t taste like college), Asian beers and fancier liquors. Each bottle is typically no bigger than a plastic soda container, which is great for transport and because Asian alcohols tend to be S-T-R-O-N-G, small pours at a time go a very long way.

21. Lemona

What is Lemona you ask? Think of it as a hotter, sweeter, cooler, better version of Emergen-C. I use that lyrical descriptor because gracing most sachets of this citrusy Korean Vitamin C supplement will be none other than BTS. So if Lemona’s revitalizing antioxidants fail to save you from those seasonal blues (they won’t), looking at seven beautiful faces certainly will help.

Do you live by an H Mart? What are your favorite things to buy there?

This post was updated in February 2022 to include additional recommendations from our editors. All products are independently selected by our editors, and Food52 may earn an affiliate commission.

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Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.

90 Comments

butterscotch March 13, 2022
Soba noodles! H Mart has a big variety.
 
Sauertea March 13, 2022
Bibigo dumplings are amazing. H-mart has excellent sashimi and sushi. They also have excellent fresh duck legs. Not to mention a huge selection of Miso paste. I love H-Mart.
 
adobeblue March 12, 2022
I just went to H Mart with my list based on this article. I got what I wanted including 2 types of meat (6 or 7 servings) and duck eggs, a bunch of herbs, and other things. The bill was 46.00. This is very fair. I got some things at Publix the other day, also 46.00 and that was no meat and no full meals, just odds, and ends.
 
Amy G. March 11, 2022
There is one on my way to work in Cupertino, CA. The produce is excellent--shitake mushrooms, all types of greens, great eggplant, etc. also fruit, better than Whole Foods and other markets, I also love the yam noodles and tofu, they have great frozen clams that are great on pizza.
 
Christina Z. March 11, 2022
Have to travel at least 3 hours to get to one, but worth it. Last trip we got Korean pears that were bigger than a softball, perfectly crisp and juicy. And tteok crispy chips! Delicious. Always find something new!
 
CassieB96 March 11, 2022
There’s an h mart by me and I stg I only get my beef from there now. The marbling is always great and one time I even found ground wagyu for the best burgers of my life!
 
asslordkatie March 11, 2022
H Mart staples in my household not in article- Pulmone silken tofu or soon tofu. Light soy sauce for soup. Brown Rice syrup. Gochugaru. Dried shrimp and anchovies for stock. Dried mushrooms and kelp. In general there are a lot of dry ingredients that are good to have on hand.

I also go here for produce like fresh wood ear fungus, enoki mushrooms (huge mushroom selection) and lotus root, snow pea green when they are in season. Shiso leaves are delicious. Huge selection of leafy greens. I find shallots are much cheaper here.
 
adobeblue March 10, 2022
Packaged Laksa - very easy to make and very good.

I like H and M Mart but it is BIG and I get overwhelmed when everything is in Chinese/Korean, etc. It is good to have some things to be able to ask for.
 
sstemmann March 10, 2022
This has brought me back to childhood, when my mom and I drove 3 hours to the Houston H-Mart. Your list was spot on. Nostalgia hit hard. I am already planning my next trip ASAP.
 
FP C. March 10, 2022
Thanks Eric, this is great! H Mart has become a staple for my wife and I since they opened on 110th and B-way in NYC, and we've discovered the big "Super" H Mart locations across the Hudson in NJ, too! We never leave w/o yam noodles. I love so many of the greens that simply don't exist in other grocery stores. Pork belly, always with multiple options of cuts and quality. The cans of tuna with kimchi flavor! Sesame leaves. Wood ear mushroom! A hundred shades of soy sauce. And while standing in line I'm always tempted to get a pork-rice bowl for lunch, and seaweed salads! So grateful H Mart has taken off all around NYC!!
 
Ray H. March 10, 2022
Sliced beef or pork for Kalbi, of course!
 
Judy March 10, 2022
Kimari from the freezer section. And sweet potato noodle ramen (again, Samyang being the best). I'm obsessed!
 
Lois February 4, 2022
Milk bread and sponge cakes!
 
Pat M. February 3, 2022
Having dried shitakes from HMart in the pantry saved my dinner the other night. I mis-read a recipe for mushroom risotto and bought 1/2 lb of fresh mushrooms instead of 1 and 1/2 lbs. We actually liked the rich flavor and meaty texture of the reconstituted shitakes with the fresh creminis.
 
SarahWarn February 3, 2022
Discovering HMart on instacart saved me a few months into the pandemic. Relief from culinary boredom!
 
Misch B. February 3, 2022
Love our East Village store...the fried chicken is amazing...and the frozen dumpling are fantastic
 
Sauertea February 2, 2022
Love my H-Mart. I was so excited when I found out I could buy fresh duck legs on a regular basis. Love the sashimi and dumplings.
 
Tom February 1, 2022
It's the only place I know where you can get a solid jade bed.
 
Mr P. July 9, 2021
Here in Honolulu, Hi we have a brand new H Mart! No stranger to Korean foods, we have a well established community. The unsolved mystery for me are all those frozen heat’em and eat’em things in the freezer cases that look so interesting but the packaging comes heavily encrypted in Korean. Google translate not helpful. A feature on those would be most helpful. Mahalo!
 
Classicanne May 2, 2021
I love H-Mart! I can only get there by public transportation and I haven't been riding during the pandemic, so I've missed going there. But! Tomorrow I will be fully vaccinated, so I will be going to H-Mart again! I've had my list ready for a whole year! 😁