Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

H-Mart: the Adventure

[Happy birthday to wispfox and siriel!]

Yesterday was *mainly* about The Garage. We spent the morning shopping around for a long-needed tool chest -- after spending five minutes trying to find a phillips-head screwdriver last week, I decided I'd had enough of the chaos. The late afternoon was spent taking everything out of one side of the garage, taking down the crappy old shelves that came with the house, building the toolchest and some new shelving, and beginning to put things back together. There's still a few hours' work to do today, but it's already a great improvement.

But I'm not here to talk about productivity. I'm here to talk about Shopping.

Friday was the long-awaited grand opening of H-Mart in Burlington. Yes, their main homepage is in Korean -- that's the point. It's a supermarket chain specializing in Korean food in particular and Asian in general, and it is *quite* neat.

(Yes, yes -- you Super 88 folks can yawn now. For those of us in the suburbs, this is new and different.)

It's in the old Decathlon Sports storefront, on Middlesex Turnpike just south of 128. (Same exit as the Burlington Mall, but go the other way on Middlesex, a few blocks down.) It's the size of a large supermarket, and more or less the same configuration, but the products themselves are rather different. It has the produce section up front, but that's full of things like Taro and Burdock, and the biggest damn Oyster Mushrooms I've ever seen. It has prepared foods, but half of them are too spicy for the average roundeye to eat, and most of the rest are a little weird. (Last night's dinner included a side of the pan-fried shrimp: eensy-weensy whole shell-on shrimp, stir-fried in sesame oil.) There's a whole aisle dedicated to Noodles, and a half-aisle to the full product line from Roland Foods -- lots of stuff that doesn't show up in ordinary American supermarkets. (Avocado oil? Chive oil? Neat.) And the ice cream section has at least half a dozen different brands of Green Tea Ice Cream.

Not everything is Asian, of course: ordinary American food is there as well, since they're trying to be a full-service supermarket. Some aisles could be out of any old supermarket, and others are split -- for instance, the snack-food aisle is Doritos and Fritos on one side, bags of mysterious stuff labeled in Korean on the other. But by and large, the exotic food dominates, probably making up 2/3 or so of the store. This shows in the proportions of the fresh food, as much as the packaged. For instance, the Beef section is weak on ordinary chuck and round, but is replete with every imaginable preparation of Short Ribs. The fish section is unusually broad -- but half of it is whole fish. And there are more preparations of octopus than I've ever seen in one store.

Prices are good, although not remarkable: far better than Whole Foods, of course, but not always better than Shaws. OTOH, quality *did* seem to be consistently better than Shaws, and it's closer to us than the nearest Whole Foods, so it's going to probably be a major player in our shopping.

There's a neat little food court inside the store, with half a dozen storefronts selling every sort of Asian food. We couldn't cope with the long lines, so we simply grabbed some sushi from the least crowded, but even that was rather better than the stuff we're used to from Whole Foods. When it's less jammed, I look forward to sampling some of the other stores. (As well as trying some of the baked goods from Tous les Jours at the front of the store.)

The crowds are, for the moment, insane. No, really -- this is shopping-as-Disneyland for the region's Asian community, as far as I can tell, and they all came out yesterday. Half of Burlington's police department were apparently detailed to try and keep the parking lot from breaking out in shooting incidents, and we wound up parking *way* down in an overflow lot from the overflow lot, that I don't think has had anyone parking in it in years. Inside, it kind of felt like reports I hear of what Tokyo is like: lots of people, whose sense of personal space is a lot narrower than the average American's. msmemory found it a bit overwhelming, and it certainly pushed my ability to cope with the crowd.

That said, I'm guardedly optimistic. The place is ridiculously convenient to my new office -- just down Middlesex Turnpike a couple of miles -- and my theory is that on weekday evenings they won't be busing people in from all over the region. That will hopefully bring the crowding down to sane levels. And it does say something that, even with yesterday's traffic, the register lines weren't too bad -- maybe three parties per register -- so they do know what they're doing. I suspect this may become my routine evening shopping stop...
Tags: diary, shopping

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