Han Yang Mart, the best Korean grocery in New York City

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Forget anything I ever said about any Korean grocery in New York.

The best place for Korean groceries, if you can get there, is Han Yang Mart in Flushing.  My friend Salley drove me there Saturday morning to pick up groceries for the Sunday dinner I was cooking at her place, and it has rejiggered my world.

What would be ideal, though, is if every time I went, I could find this amazing woman named Esther Jung.

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Salley and I were standing by the tofu wondering which brands were best when Esther, a Korean American woman in her forties, jumped in.  She said, pointing to a big plastic tub with a tiger on it, “This is the best one.  Don’t buy anything else.  I wouldn’t take any other tofu if they gave it to me for free.”

It was like a dream come true.  I had always wanted a Korean mother to tell me which brands to buy.  My mom is no help because A) she lives in Korea and B) she gets all her staples from little old ladies in the countryside grinding out dried red peppers by hand.

Esther sensed that we were longing for wisdom and launched into an impromptu lesson in Korean pantry stocking.

Steering us towards a shelf full of beans and grains, she pointed to the bar code on the back and said, “Let me tell you something.  You want to know what stuff is really from Korea and not from China?  You have to look at the bar code.  It has to start ‘8 80.’  Anything else, and it is not from Korea, even if it says ‘Product of Korea.’”

We nodded, rapt.

“It’s really important to buy the best stuff.  The stuff from China, you don’t know what’s in it.  They put sawdust in the red pepper powder.  You know, they say Koreans spend all their money on clothes and shoes, but for me, it’s better to buy cheap clothes and cheap shoes and spend money on good food.  One day, you’ll be married, and this will be important!”

Salley is married, but she just continued to nod, rapt.

“In my family, we only eat brown rice.  Every day, even in kimbap, it’s only brown rice.  Maybe once, twice a year, we’ll eat white rice.  Me, I’m democratic.  I’m not Kim Jong-Il!”

I nodded, murmuring, “Yes, that’s how my mother raised me.”

“So you know!”

Salley chimed in, “Where do you buy your meat?”

Esther looked around and leaned in, almost conspiratorially.  “I go to American butchers.  They have the best meat.  For galbi or samgyupsal (pork belly), I shop here at Han Yang.  Never at Han Ah Reum, never.”

“One time, at Han Ah Reum, I bought some naengmyeon (buckwheat noodles).  And they were so old and dry, even though the expiration date on the sticker hadn’t passed.  So I called the company that makes the noodles and they said they don’t put expiration dates on stickers!  Han Ah Reum had put the stickers on old noodles!”

“One day you’ll be married, and you have to know this stuff.  You know, I’m always trying to get the newspapers here to educate people on what food is good.  If I weren’t so busy, if I didn’t have a family, I would have done something about Han Ah Reum, complained to someone because it isn’t right.”

In another life, I can see Esther being the Erin Brockovich of the Korean grocery world.  I am sure there is a lot of muckraking to do.  But she is a busy woman, an accountant and active community member with a family, who still clearly relished the opportunity to share what she knew with two clueless shoppers.

Salley and I spent the rest of our time in that store picking up products and marveling at the bar codes.  Unfortunately, a little Googling at home seems to reveal that the bar code isn’t a fail-safe way to determine the country of origin.

Regardless, our Saturday shopping excursion was one of the most invigorating of my life.  There really is something much brighter and righter about Han Yang than the Han Ah Reum markets on Northern Boulevard, which have always given me the willies.  Their seafood counter is clean without the slightest stench of bad fish.  They carry banchan and tteok from Hansol Party House, a wonderful little business whose tasty garaetteok will make you swear off of packaged tteok forever.  There’s a good little corner with household sundries, like giant buckets for making kimchi.  I found everything I wanted, needed and longed for, including a can of sweet red beans and black sesame tteok for patbingsoo.  (There’s more of a detailed write-up of the grocery here, courtesy of Chowhound.)

It’s still a long walk from the 7 train on Main Street, and the Main Street station itself is a long way from Fort Greene, Brooklyn, but by hook or by Zipcar (or by Salley), I am going to make Han Yang the main source for my Korean pantry.

And now I know what brand of tofu I like best, the one in the tiger tub.  Unlike most store-bought tofu, it had a real, nutty, delicious flavor.  The company claims it’s made with seawater, which may be why it made me think of that wonderful tofu I had in Gangneung.

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3 Responses to “Han Yang Mart, the best Korean grocery in New York City”

  1. nancy Says:

    oh great post! i just got a zipcar membership so i’ll have to check out hanyang sometime.

    i did a super h mart run about a month ago and froze all this meat. i tried making galbi this weekend but the galbi i bought was terrible. but that’s because it was REALLY cheap and fatty. in hindsite i’m guessing it would have made a better jjim than guiii.

    anywho, i think i’ll have to look more confused the next time i shop so an esther jung can help me out

  2. Grace Says:

    Ha ha, yes, we were so lucky! You know where I found flanken cut galbi of all places? Fresh Direct. And the ribs I got at my butcher in Carroll Gardens was definitely higher quality than Assi Plaza.

  3. Saw Than Says:

    wanted Korean Foods For my store

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