Michelle Zauner’s Guide to H Mart

How to shop at the beloved Korean American supermarket, according to the author of bestselling memoir, Crying in H Mart.

June 04, 2021

Photo by: Tonje Thilesen

Tonje Thilesen

I’ve always had a thing for grocery stores. Even as a child, I loved to browse the fluorescent aisles with my mother, moving along the shelves stacked high with bounties placed in perfect pyramids, their colorful logos calling out to me and beckoning for closer investigation. Well before I learned to cook, I was enchanted by the air of possibility. I loved to browse the fridges and freezers and imagine under what late night circumstance I might find myself delighting in a tray of Bagel Bites, or pondering when the weather might make itself amenable to fully enjoying a Santa Cruz Strawberry Lemonade on the lawn. I felt in tune with my senses there – feeling for ripeness, sniffing for freshness, assessing graphic design for quality.

After my mom passed away, H Mart became a refuge for me, a reminder of happier times and a means to preserve the Korean heritage I found myself in imminent danger of losing. I visited as often as I could, conjuring memories of my mother in the aisles, thinking of the way she would pour over new imports or scrutinize the frozen seafood, remembering the defeated expression with which she’d finally relent to my repeated plea for Japanese bubble gum and fruit jelly cups.

Now, H Mart is a place where I devise my own themes and elaborate new combinations in concert with my mood. If it’s been a rough week, maybe it’s time to stock up on ramen and frozen dumplings and give into simple, enduring cravings. If the weather is beginning to warm up, maybe it’s time to construct an elaborate patbingsu, a shaved iced dessert with all the toppings.

The next time you find yourself inside an H Mart, whether it’s your first time or you’re just looking for a fresh shopping list, try adding a few of my favorite things to your cart. Here’s my personal, choose-your-own-adventure-style grocery guide to the store. I hope you love wandering its aisles as much as I do.

For When Your Brain Is Fried:

Many of us know the drudgery of a long week of Zoom after Zoom. When you just can’t seem to catch a break, you just want to treat yourself to something cheap, easy and delicious – something you can prep in five minutes, stuff swiftly into your mouth and then crawl into bed and sleep off.

For a remedy I like to call a loner’s mukbang, grab a pack of Samyang Fire Noodles (My favorite flavors are the 2x Spicy and Carbonara. But be warned! These are very spicy.), Kraft American Singles and Jinga Chonggak Kimchi.

Cook the Fire Noodles according to the instructions on the package. Then, place a square of Kraft American cheese on top of the noodles (trust me) and let it melt. Serve with a side of radish kimchi.

Get hyped with Dorothy.

For When You Wanna Soak in the Sun:

It’s finally warm enough to dine al fresco! If you’re looking to take advantage of that backyard patio, get outside and barbecue.

Grab one package of pork belly, a head of red leaf lettuce, a small tub of pre-peeled garlic, sesame oil, ssamjang, white rice and any kind of kimchi (in the summer, I love dongchimi a.k.a. white radish water kimchi). To get a true K-BBQ vibe, I highly recommend investing in a camp stove. Many Korean families have one, and it makes communal summertime eating so much fun.

Rinse the lettuce in a colander and set it out with cooked white rice, thinly sliced raw garlic and ssamjang. Mix sesame oil with chunky salt and fresh cracked pepper for a dipping sauce. Cook the pork belly tableside on the camp stove until it’s crisp, then combine a little bit of everything in a lettuce wrap and enjoy.

For When You’re Guilty of Ordering Too Much Takeout Sushi:

I’m going to let you in on one of my top-secret hacks. I have no self-control when it comes to ordering sushi, so I offset the mounting price of my takeout checks by buying a filet of sushi-grade salmon from H Mart and slicing it up sashimi-style while I wait for the delivery driver.

If you’re feeling lazy, I recommend ordering just a couple rolls and a side of sushi rice to go with the salmon. If, on the other hand, you’re feeling inspired, go ahead and grab sushi-grade salmon (H Mart also carries tuna, ikura, masago and uni), sushi rice, rice vinegar, sriracha, Kewpie Mayonnaise, avocado, plain seaweed, wasabi, pickled ginger and soy sauce.

Dissolve two tablespoons of sugar and one teaspoon of salt into a 1/4-cup of rice vinegar. Mix into two cups of cooked sushi rice.

With a sharp knife, make sure, as best you can, to cut the sashimi into even, centimeter-wide slices. Mince the odd-looking extra bits and mix with a little Kewpie mayo and sriracha. Then dollop spoonfuls of the mixture onto half-sheets of plain seaweed. Add sushi rice and thinly sliced avocado, then roll the sheets up into little hand rolls. Serve with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.

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