Grocery

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

Kimchi, gochujang, and more.

by:
May  1, 2019
Photo by Nandaro/Wikimedia Commons

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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.

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Top Comment:
“Love H-Mart!! One about 20 min in White Plains. Required on each trip: mushrooms (dried and fresh - although the fresh has gottne a bit pricier of late), frozen dumplings (our freezer is always stocked) - best place for vegetable dumplings including new "appetizer" size. Dumpling Sauce for emergencies. Aseptic packages of silken tofu. A new version of kimchi each time. All manner of soy sauces and dozens and dozens of other sauces. White Pickeled ginger (no dye). Rice sticks and other GF noodles - dried and fresh. Produce is wonderful! Fresh and reasonable and fun. And lots of organic. Always Baby Bok Choy, and always buy a few things I don't recognize. Bunches of long chives. Great tea aisle. Lots of seaweed. Wild Caught Fresh whole fish - that they clean or fillet. Blue crabs - sometimes (if they are big enough). Fri, Sat & Sun are "specials" days but it is jammed (but still fun). ”
— beth
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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

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

All products are independently selected by our editors, and Food52 may earn an affiliate commission.

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Eric Kim is a Senior Editor at Food52, where his weekly solo dining column, Table for One, runs every Friday morning. Formerly the Digital Manager at Food Network, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.

65 Comments

FoodFreak August 31, 2019
Pressed tofu cut like spaghetti. I don’t know what it is called. You boil it for 2-3 minutes in water to which a tablespoon of baking soda has been added, according to the manufacturer’s website. It is like al dente spaghetti but all protein. In winter I buy my sweet potatoes already cooked. And I love the brown rice/sweet brown rice combo.
 
Zorayda N. August 29, 2019
I feel so spoiled now in Texas. I always had an Hmart growing up in Los Angeles and when I lived in NJ/NYC. But seriously, Hmarts in TX are Texas size and very affordable because they have to compete with 99 Ranch. Hmart in Plano for example has a pretty good food court :) and sits next to an all you can eat Korean bbq restaurant. Y’all need to visit TX because how can you beat the best brisket and Korean BBQ buffet all in awesome metro areas namely Dallas, Austin, and Houston! How can I ever move back to LA?!?
 
Chris August 29, 2019
Just moved to Fairfax, Virginia and there's a "Super Hmart" just three minutes from the house. When I saw it, I just swerved into the parking lot and jumped out. My girlfriend says "you were almost SKIPPING when you went in there." She caught up a few minutes later and I was already deep in the Chinese section looking for hot bean paste.

One thing that's nice about Virginia is grocery stores can sell beer and wine - and the sake selection in this one is just insane.
 
Zorayda N. May 13, 2019
I actually am a bonafide card carrying Hmart shopper and I do juggle deals between Hmart and 99 Ranch which makes you an Asian Mom 😆 I will point out to newbies to check out the gluten free flours and to stock up on potato starch for crispy frying, sesame oil (always on sale), and Korean fermented shrimp which is killer in sauces coz I am Filipino but Korean shrimp paste is milder.
 
Donna A. May 9, 2019
Buy the giant container of tofu with maybe 12 or 15 blocks of tofu for under $6! A vegetarian's delight.
 
beth May 9, 2019
Have never seen this - can you provide a more specific description?
 
Donna A. May 10, 2019
Our H Mart has this product (2 vendors) in the refrigerated section near the produce. They also have flavored, pressed, fried tofu of many varieties in the regular small white plastic vats, individually packaged. But, there should also be a Large (10" x 3.5" x 7") container of many tofu "cakes" in water. So instead of one tofu cake in one container, you get a whole lot. Once you open it, you will need to keep the "cakes" that you are not using right away in another container and change the water daily until you use them up.
This is great for a party when you might want to make a larger amount of tofu. Check out the recipe for Gochujang Tofu with Scallions on this website. I added a comment to the recipe. Good luck!
 
Zorayda N. May 13, 2019
And hopefully the tofu is not gmo!
 
sharyn May 9, 2019
how nice to have a store like that. I unfortunately live in Lawton, Oklahoma. This city doesn't even have a regular grocery store. Walmart has a monopoly of this, they have 3 stores. It just isn't the same as a good regular grocery store .
 
beth May 9, 2019
Love H-Mart!! One about 20 min in White Plains. Required on each trip: mushrooms (dried and fresh - although the fresh has gottne a bit pricier of late), frozen dumplings (our freezer is always stocked) - best place for vegetable dumplings including new "appetizer" size. Dumpling Sauce for emergencies. Aseptic packages of silken tofu. A new version of kimchi each time. All manner of soy sauces and dozens and dozens of other sauces. White Pickeled ginger (no dye). Rice sticks and other GF noodles - dried and fresh. Produce is wonderful! Fresh and reasonable and fun. And lots of organic. Always Baby Bok Choy, and always buy a few things I don't recognize. Bunches of long chives. Great tea aisle. Lots of seaweed. Wild Caught Fresh whole fish - that they clean or fillet. Blue crabs - sometimes (if they are big enough). Fri, Sat & Sun are "specials" days but it is jammed (but still fun).
 
beth May 9, 2019
Making a shopping list for my next trip from this article, and, especially, the comments!! Thanks!
 
Kim May 5, 2019
I love HMart! We just got one about 20 minutes from where I live. I took my other Asian girl friends on a field trip there. Totally agree about fresh seafood and fruits and veggies. Also the meat is bomb. I like to get my kalbi meat there if I’m impressing someone.
 
Luciana May 5, 2019
Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp for $1.99!
 
wagzel May 5, 2019
Three Mountain Yellow Sriracha is
a new find, a totally different condiment than the red. Three Mountain is the only brand I've ever see, but at $3 why not give it a try.
 
Pat M. May 5, 2019
HMart is our go-to for seafood, especially sea scallops which are always colossal and fresh. And Shanxi noodles, black vinegar (which I'm addicted to), cut-up jack fruit and so much more. We go a little bit crazy in the cookie aisle too. And, yes, the mochi ice cream! Mikakaya brand is the best and they have a variety pack so you don't have to pick just one. HMart also has the best whole beef tongue, much better than the Hispanic markets locally.
 
Lisa May 5, 2019
Dried mushrooms at a fraction of the cost elsewhere.
 
Nancy H. May 5, 2019
I buy lots and lots of mushrooms from H Mart - several varieties of oyster including 'meat flavor', a variety of trumpets and more including organic and conventional shiitake. We've taken to exploring the different kinds of kimchi which is fun and buy plenty of the prepared foods, especially the Korean omelet sliced in to finger food - tasty, satisfying and fairly lo-cal.
 
muireann May 5, 2019
The Doraville, GA H Mart not only has a great food court (and is next to the best izakaya in Atlanta), it has a K-beauty aisle. I am prepared to move in.
 
Lynn May 12, 2019
What is the name of the izakaya? I was just at the shopping center last week for Laotian.
 
Kim May 5, 2019
This article and comments have been so fun to read!! Thank you everyone for sharing. No one has talked about the tea aisle though!!! There are these teas that look like jam; a citrus version and a ginger version that are both delicious. Not sure what they’re called though.
 
tina May 5, 2019
The citrus one is Yuja-cha or Citron tea in honey, and in korean; 유자차. Dont know about the ginger one.
 
eritie September 1, 2019
Yuja tea is so good. I also love corn silk tea, chilled especially.
 
Judy May 5, 2019
Jjajjangmen and jap chae noodles (although I admit I prefer Trader Joe's bulgogi to make it!) Also packets of mild ramen, Samyang is my favorite. Even the mild is kind of spicy, but I guess that's to be expected from something made in Korea.
 
Danielle May 5, 2019
Don’t limit yourself to the Asian goodies at H Mart. The produce section has a wide variety of more “familiar” fruits and veggies as well, at way better prices.
 
Justin Y. May 3, 2019
Hey Eric!

This was a very relatable read since I shop at H Mart pretty frequently, just went there last week to pick up kbbq food, haha.

Also, I was wondering if you would be interested in writing a review about a product? If so just let me know and we can talk via email :) Thank you!
 
Tomoose May 3, 2019
H Mart in Toronto are more like 7-Eleven. Would love to go to a huge one like the picture at beginning of article. I especially like buying the Korean sushi. Makes for a cheap, healthier lunch. Also buy most of my sushi ingredients there as it's cheaper than the Japanese grocery store. Great article Eric!
 
Grace V. May 7, 2019
Galleria is prolly our version of H Mart in TO. So cool to have so much available nowadays 😃
 
AelyaS August 30, 2019
Toronto is one of the few places that could stand to not have an HMart simply because the Asian food and grocery scene is immense. Really, Torontonians are spoiled.
 
Jaclin G. May 2, 2019
I have fallen in love with Korean cold noodle packs on a hot muggy day. The most common flavor seems to be Kimchi, which I like, but I really liked a dark umami flavorthat I bought last summer that I haven't been able to find again. Wish I knew what is was!
 
Daeyoung H. May 5, 2019
I think what you had was Doongji nangmyeon with Chilled Broth! I love them too:)