Korean markets are great places to get some delicious ingredients, fresh meat, fruits and veggies from the motherland.
This article focuses on Korean markets abroad. These tips will especially help you get what you need in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
YOU MAY NOT BELIEVE THIS, but Korean markets in the States are often better than ones in Seoul. You can find more types of fresh fruits from both Korea and America. Meats are higher quality and cheaper too. Also, you can get EVERYTHING like soju, makgeoli and ramyun (made for export with bigger portions and better quality).
1. Get your mind right
Shopping rules are super different in Korea from what you’re used to. This culture has made its way overseas all around the world.
That being said, Korean market staff could be 1st, 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants or someone who speaks only English.
The lines will be blurred with your local customs.
Just a heads up, nudging with elbows or shopping carts is fair game in Korea, so you might experience some of that regardless of where you are.
📌Tip! Use a shopping cart to create some space for yourself by extending your arms a bit. Many Korean tourists go to Korean markets while visiting the States. They might not have the same concept of personal space since South Korea has high population density.
Keep an open mind and you’ll be just fine.
2. Make a list
Korean markets can be overwhelming. It pays to have all the items you need listed before you go.
Here are the key ingredients that allow you to make most Korean dishes.
- Toasted sesame oil (chamgireum)
- Ssamjang (you can actually make it yourself with 1 part Doenjang + 1 part Gochujang)
- Garlic (Korean garlic is super intense if you can find it)
- Soy sauce
- Sesame seeds
📌Tip! If you’re driving from other states or areas, bring a cooler/ice box like many Koreans do. Korean markets even sell live fish that can be turned into hoe (or sashimi) upon request. They’ll also prep (gut/clean) seafood if you tell them what you plan on cooking.
3. Grab a parking spot
Koreans are masters of parallel and reverse parking. They can also see an empty parking spot from a mile away. Living in one of the denser countries in the world will do that to you.
Depending on where you live, getting a parking spot might be tricky.
📌Tip! Go a bit early or late to avoid a parking standoff.
4. Expect to be rushed
Especially at checkout. You might notice that the next customer will crowd you right after you pay as you’re bagging your groceries.
Don’t take this personally as Koreans are used to being in hurry. (This comes in handy at an airport though. If you stand behind a group of Koreans at security, that line is more likely to move fast.)
📌Tip! Focus on what you need to do and take your time. An alternative could be: put all your stuff in the shopping cart and pay first, then move to a corner to organize and bag your groceries.
5. Try something new
There’s so much to Korean cuisine that even I’m still finding new dishes and flavors.
Try some seaweed, doenjang, toran (taro) and wild sesame based dishes. They’re really healthy and yummm.
If you’re not comfortable cooking Korean food yourself, most markets have a banchan corner. All you need to do is make some steamed rice (or buy a bowl of it) and eat it with the banchan of your choice.
Some Korean markets like Galleria Market have free-sample tasting booths/stands. Don’t be shy and try everything.
Recommendation 🥰: Gaju Gimbap is famous among Koreans. It’s located in California Marketplace (Gaju Market) in Koreatown LA.
6. Check for freshness
Many products are imported, so they might have aged a bit on their journey, especially if you’re not in California.
(Rumor has it that the Korean market in Las Vegas is not so fresh and it’s better to drive to LA.)
📌Tip! Check expiration dates and produce for signs of age. If you’re not sure, feel free to ask staff members for help.
Korean Markets in Los Angeles
California Marketplace (Gaju Market), Galleria Market and Zion Market seem to be respectable and popular among Koreans living on the West Coast. Make sure to check what’s on sale each week! Also, don’t forget to collect “points” on their apps! Just like in the homeland.
7. Know your brands
Korean brands aren’t created equal.
Like in many countries including the US, a few large conglomerates own most of them.
The 3 major brands are:
- CJ owns Bibigo and is the Nestle of Korea.
- Pulmuone is known to have slightly better ingredients and quality.
- Ottogi has a good corporate image to Koreans.
You might find No Brand in Korea. It’s hit and miss. Some products are cheaper and high-quality. Some are just cheap.
📌Tip! Some trial and error is required. Explore and try different types of samples at a Korean market!
8. Ask about allergens
There was no concept of food allergies in South Korea and only the strong survived back in the day. Now more Koreans are aware of allergies, but it’s still work in progress.
One visitor even made an app addressing this problem. This plus the fact that ingredients are in Korean can make it tricky for people with allergies.
📌Tip! Check out the Korean convenience app to see what’s in each product. Android┃iOS
9. Double check everything
As far as I know, Korean markets don’t have return or exchange policies.
Whether you get a refund on groceries will depend on the person you’re speaking with.
📌Tip! Make sure everything is alright before going to a check out line.
What else can I do in K-town besides going to a Korean market?
Here are a few ideas:
- Sing noraebang
- Go to a spa
- Get your hair done at a Korean salon
- Eat KBBQ
- Play drinking games
- Explore the town
- Learn more about Korea
- Brush up on your hallyu history
- Watch a Korean movie or TV show
- Listen to Korean music
- Get involved in a Korean American Association
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Did we miss anything?
Let us know your thoughts or questions about Korean markets!
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