It’s hard to believe that H Mart, a national Korean grocery chain with two North Texas locations (Carrollton and Plano) opened its first store in our area nearly 15 years ago. The food emporium, which features more than 70,000 square feet of food and retail shopping space, includes a food court, packed with Korean cuisine like fried chicken, soups, dumplings and more.
And yes, I attended the grand opening. I’ve attended more grand openings of North Texas-area cultural grocery stores than most people I know. (The food giveaways, deep discounts and food samples are so worth it.)
When I enter any one of the many cultural food markets in North Texas, I’m truly a kid in a toy store. But I’m strategic. I browse specific areas — produce, meats, spices, sauces and prepared foods. After that, I use cookware and dishes.
I’ve identified a few of my must-haves at H Mart:
As you enter H Mart, you will be in awe at the massive selection of fresh produce, including herbs, peppers, vegetables and fruits. But please don’t rush through this department. There’s much to see.
Whether you’re a meat lover or a vegan, there is something here for everyone. For example, on many vegetarian menus at popular restaurants, you can find oyster mushrooms prepared in a style that mimics the flavor and texture of fried Buffalo wings. H Mart stocks myriad mushroom varieties (organic options, too), including oyster mushrooms sold at a fraction of the cost of similar items at other popular chain grocers.
Good to go
When you’ve made it past the vast produce department of the Carrollton store, you will enter the prepared-foods area. There you’ll find roasted or fried packaged fish like mackerel and belt fish, plus many popular dishes typically served at Korean restaurants like fried rice, seaweed salad, pickled radish, chive pancakes — all packaged in grab-n-go containers. Whenever I dine at Korean restaurants, I often request extra servings of my favorite side dish, “fish cake,” which is sauteed strips of goodness containing wheat flour, carrots and other ingredients. In the prepared-foods department, two varieties are available. You’ll find even more in the frozen foods section.
And when it comes to kimchi, the options seem endless. H Mart’s in-house culinary crew prepares fresh kimchi onsite. It’s tasty. I’ve also tried some of the other brands stocked in an adjacent refrigerated section.
Meat in the middle
As a clear and present carnivore, I especially love H Mart’s Korean BBQ booth, where marinated, ready-to-cook meats are on display and are packaged to order. Kalbi — the most-popular star of Korean BBQ feasts — is sold here. Marinated in Korean flavors, the thinly-sliced beef short ribs are delicious prepared on an outdoor grill or sizzling in a stovetop skillet or grill pan. H Mart’s Korean BBQ booth also offers marinated, thinly-sliced chicken, pork and other beef options, including bulgogi (thinly-sliced ribeye).
Once you’ve determined the desired amount of meat you want and selected a couple of the sides from the prepared-food section, when you get home, you can have a tasty meal on your table in about 10 minutes, the time it basically takes for you to cook the marinated meats.
One of my absolute favorite Asian cooking essentials is sesame oil. At the end of Aisle 6 (toward the check-out lines), where tasty Korean pepper paste (gochujang), fish sauce and other flavor sources are on display, are the sesame oils. My preference is the Pure Black Sesame Oilwhich has a rich, toasted sesame taste.
I use sesame oil the way I use olive oil. Fresh spinach, sauteed with sesame oil, garlic and sprinkled with kosher salt — YUM. Fresh asparagus, fresh mushrooms drizzled with sesame oil and sprinkled with kosher salt roasted in a preheated 400 F oven for about 12 minutes is amazing. Sesame oil also is great as a base for quick-and-easy salad dressings and dipping sauces. Shake up a mixture of sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar and ground ginger for a great salad dressing or Asian-dumpling dipping sauce.
Just my cup of tea
Every Asian food market has a dedicated aisle for tea and coffee. It’s mind blowing. So many interesting options. But if you must choose one, consider the Prince of Peace Original Ginger Honey Crystals, a caffeine-free beverage (one package contains several individual packets of instant, fast-dissolving spicy ginger crystals). Empty one packet into a mug, add hot water, and quickly enjoy a warm, tingly, tasty drink. I’m a bit “extra” with this item. I for some of the crystals in the bottom of my cup before pouring in super-cold orange juice. The resulting orange/ginger drink is super refreshing. It’s also great added to cold water for a cool summer drink. I also add a packet or two to my blender when I’m making mango smoothies. Treat yourself.
Spicy chili crisp
Some people wear by sriracha and other chili sauces. But consider adding Lao Gan Ma’s Spicy Chili Crisp to your favorite condiments. It elevates a basic bowl of soup. It’s great as a dip for chicken or pot stickers. I add it to bowls of ramen. It’s also great for veggie, beef or shrimp stir-fry dishes. Toss it in with some sauteed or roasted green beans. It’s not super-hot, but it is super flavorful. Try it on roasted pork or as a topping for pork ribs. Your imagination will guide you.
Pause for pastries
On your way out of H Mart, you’ll pass by Everyday Bakery and coffee shop. While I’ve never had their coffee, I’ve tried a multitude of their delicious, fresh-baked goods. There is a filled pastry called milk bread. It sells out often. The pastry is soft and spongy and the creamy filling is, well, so good. I recently tried something new, the cranberry and apple cream-filled pastry. I came home, brewed a cup of coffee, sat down with this treat and forgot to drink my coffee! If you want to buy something large enough to share, try the spongy, blueberry crème cake-shaped pastry. It can serve about four or five people. This bakery has a few savory pastries, too. Try something if you have a sweet tooth. Try something even if you don’t.
H Mart, 2625 Old Denton Road, #200, Carrollton; and 3320 K Ave., Plano. hmart.com.