For those in the know, the Korean supermarket chain H-Mart is a wonderful place to shop–they have a fish department and a meat department that puts virtually all American supermarket chains to shame, as well as a fantastic produce department and an in-store food court where the hungry shopper can choose from a variety great dishes.
For over a year now people in New England have been eagerly awaiting the announced grand opening of a new H-Mart in Burlington, Massachusetts, New England’s first. The big day finally arrived this past Friday, and the place was absolutely mobbed. There was even a nice little writeup in the Boston Globe. The store was mobbed all day Friday, with parking overflowing into lots of nearby businesses. I decided to make my first visit today, and as my wife and I navigated our way through the sea of people, all I can say is that I was completely overwhelmed by the place. The produce section was fantastic–while there were dozens of Asian vegetables I did not recognize, there was a full array of typical fruits and vegetables that form the backbone of American cuisine. In particular, the selection of fresh mushrooms and hot peppers is awesome. There is a small section in the back corner of the produce area dedicated to fresh Kimchi and other pickled dishes. People were buying this stuff by the bucket-load. Next to the produce section is the food court, which has a French-Asian bakery, a sushi place, several Asian food stands and an Indian curry place. The food court businesses are independently owned, so I assume each H-Mart is different. We were planning on eating there after we finished shopping, but the place was so mobbed that it was simply not possible.
Next we came to the meat section–it’s hard to even describe. The beef all looks great, with some cuts that were familiar to me, and other cuts (paper-thin slices of ribeye steak, small cross cut sections of short ribs, etc.) clearly geared towards Asian dishes. We bought some thin slices of hanger steak (a cut you can almost never find in an American supermarket or butcher shop) and some ox-tail, and also some of the thinly sliced rib-eye steaks. The quality is very good. Everything is USDA Choice, and much of it is Certified Black Angus. The prices clearly undercut local supermarket chain prices, and given how close HMart is to my work, the meat department alone will turn me into a regular customer. But really, the meat department is just a teaser, because after that comes the seafood.
Seafood, seafood, and more seafood
In the tanks they have live eels, geoduck clams, abalone, lobster, and–get this–dungeness crab. For someone like me who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, access to live dungeness crab is a wonderful thing. The fish counter is some forty feet long or so, and it’s that big for a reason. The selection is wonderful–grouper, red snapper, salmon (wild and farm-raised), catfish, tilapia, red tilapia, wild bluefish, striped bass, and a whole lot of great looking fish I’ve never even seen before. They clearly have the best selection of fish that I’ve ever seen on the east coast. There’s squid, octopus, oysters, wonderful shrimp (we bought some large head on shrimp from Peru for only $5.99 / lb.).
Beyond the seafood area is a pretty conventional dairy section, which would be right at home in any American supermarket. Up to this point we’ve made one counterclockwise trip around the store’s perimeter. A two-aisle frozen food section runs down the middle of the store that contains mostly Asian foods–we bought some won-ton wrappers and some frozen dumplings after tasting some samples, and they were great.
That brings us to the grocery aisles. In addition to the huge variety of Asian food one would expect, there is a decent amount of Indian food in the store, as well as a section for Hispanic groceries. There’s even a bit of Italian food in the store, including Carnaroli rice, a relatively hard-to-find variety that is preferred over Arborio rice by most Italians for Risotto dishes. And the price for the Carnaroli rice was significantly lower than at Whole Foods.
If you have a chance, stop in and experience H-Mart for yourself–we had a great time and we’re both looking forward to cooking up some of the many things we purchased there!
3 Old Concord Road
Burlington, Massachusetts 01803