As I mentioned previously, grocery shopping for me here in Seoul has been an experience. Being here almost two months now I have learned the ropes around where to go, what to buy, what not to buy, and most importantly which store sells the best peanut butter. I decided what better way to really show you a day in the life of my grocery shopping adventure than to take you with me!
Welcome to my local Hyundai Mart! You can tell a store is a supermarket by 1. looking for images of food on the sign 2. some sort of food items, usually made of rice, or toilet paper/paper towel items outside and 3. the sign is typically green. Green must speak “we sell food here!”, then again I didn’t take marketing class.
One thing to note before you see all these crazy prices-
1 USD = 1,198 KRW (As of 03/06/2016)
Walking into the store there is a constant change of food items on discount, today being some potatoes (including sweet potatoes which I have found are an Asian favorite while here and in Tokyo), but there have also been apples, persimmon, mango, or even hotteok (Korean pancake) mixes.
Speaking of fruit, in the front of the store comes the produce section where you will not find Walmart prices for the majority. Fruit, I have learned from time in Tokyo as well, is expensive. Although they seem to value quality and some even give the fancy oranges or cantaloupe as gifts, I never understood why (besides obvious geographic location) some fruit is just so expensive compared to the prices I am used to in America. These are only a few examples but strawberries are definitely a novelty here and many other places. Moving onto other parts of the produce section: mushrooms! You will not lack in options in this category.
Oh look the cheese section!… Wait, don’t be fooled this is no feta but in fact it is tofu. It would seem obvious that you could figure this out right? False. True story: another model here actually bought a package thinking it was cheese and was sadly disappointed when it was in fact, nothing like cheese. The only cheese related thing about it is the amount of it they have displayed at the supermarkets, like this one. They do love their tofu here and you won’t be mistaken!
Onto the greens, which they also have a wide variety of. Most of the fresh greens in the store are unlabeled/labeled in Korean or I just can’t recognize what they are so I have learned to stick with the staple iceberg lettuce. Another item that is sold in anbudance are these Korean green peppers that are served as a side dish for Korean meals. I thought they would be spicy by the shape and size, but after having one there was very little spice if any.
If there is one green I can recognize at any supermarket here it’s this one. Cabbage. Cabbage everywhere and usually sold in sizes bigger than a small toddler. As most people know Korean food is very recognized by their kimchi which is typically made of this vegetable, so if you find a store in Seoul that doesn’t sell cabbage by the bulk then… You should let me know so I can visit.
Now to the meat section, or should I call it the fish cake and sausage section. I did not know coming here that I would be surrounded by the most sausages I have ever seen, and when I say sausage I mean the hot dog type of sausage not the fresh from the deli kind. They have a great amount of bacon, franks, sausage, and fish cakes here including these three items from this section. Another interesting thing about these items, something that I still don’t know much about, is what makes this brand the “healthy” brand. If it’s to make the consumer feel better about eating bacon then it worked.
The fresh fish section in the back of the store is definitely the most interesting for me. Whenever I’m in the grocery store they are usually cutting up some sort of fish and setting it out to be sold. Things like squid, octopus, and fish intestines can be found here. A lot of this is used for soup I’ve been told, like fish intestine soup. Yum!
Walking towards the inside aisles you first must maneuver your away around these rice bags which I can’t decide if they’re used as weights or is it really possible to go through this much rice?! Of course it’s a staple here and it seems to be found in bulk at any supermarket.
Turn the corner again and you come across the section of seaweed. If it’s green, it’s seaweed. (Unless it’s a supermarket sign, that must mean something else…)
For this next one it takes up one whole aisle for all the different varieties. I’ve never seen so much ramen in my life and my middle school self would be in lunch heaven if I had this many options. These are not just your basic Instant Lunch Ramen!
Right next to the Ramen aisle is the canned meat aisle (thats what I call it) after the mass amounts of canned tuna, salmon, and yes Spam. I’ve come across Spam quite a bit since being here, while eating out or in different items at the grocery store, and it seems to be an easy quick fix for most here.
Don’t forget about breakfast, we have to go get some cereal of course! Maybe you don’t realize it yet but in America we have a huge selection of cereals. Koreans ramen and rice section is our cereal section. It is definitely not a typical Korean breakfast and I think I almost shed a tear when I saw the wimpy selection of cereals here. I also crave cereal over ice cream so maybe I’m a bit more sensitive…
Last but not least is this delicious South Korean treat simply called Banana Milk, something I read about while doing research on food here. After trying it for the first time all I can say is I got immediate flashbacks of Nesquik banana milk and being a kid. It is delicious.
Well, that takes you through the majority of my local supermarket. I have since been to about ten other supermarkets around Seoul just to find other varieties of the food I enjoy and to see what other interesting things I can find. Grocery shopping in any foreign country, or foreign place other than what you’re used to, can always be an experience and buying food here has been nothing less but I have definitely learned to adapt and find my new favorites and normals. I may not be the most adventurous eater (I try) but I love being fascinated by the world of food culture that’s out there and can all be found just by exploring your local supermarket.
What interesting things have you found while grocery shopping abroad or in South Korea?