9 Things You Should Know Before Shopping at H Mart for the First Time
H Mart is something of a destination hub for Asian Americans across the country. For those living in suburbs or parts of cities without easy access to Asian ingredients, it’s common to make weekly or monthly trips to the closest H Mart — sometimes traveling over an hour to stock up on essentials that can’t be found in local grocery stores.
Locations of H Mart have grown alongside the growth of Asian American communities nationwide, and now people of all ethnicities shop there. For those new to the grocer, H Mart can be a wonderland for learning about Asian foods, finding those specialty ingredients, and discovering new favorites while you’re at it. Here’s what you need to know before you step foot in the store.
1. The H in H Mart stands for “han ah reum,” which means “an armful” in Korean.
As in, “an armful of groceries.” Korean immigrant Il Yeon Kwon founded the first H Mart as a small grocery store in Woodside, Queens, New York, in 1982. He started growing the chain across the northeastern United States. Now there are over 80 stores across the U.S., Canada, and even in the U.K.
2. There is a bounty of Asian herbs and greens you won’t find in your local supermarket.
Did you watch Minari and wonder, where can I get some minari, the herb? H Mart is just the place. You’ll find loads of in-season herbs that are unique to Asian cuisines here, including kkaenip (perilla leaves) for filling out your Korean BBQ table, lemongrass for curry, and yu choy for Chinese stir-fries.
3. The produce section offers great quality at a very reasonable price.
It’s well worth the trip just to stock up on fresh ingredients. The produce offered at H Mart is always very high-quality and is often priced lower than what you’ll find at other supermarkets. The fruit sections in particular are a gold mine; look for the biggest, sweetest varieties of Fuji, Honeycrisp, and Gala apples, just to start.
4. You’ll find plenty of prepped, ready-to-cook meats.
If you love grilling your own meats tableside at Korean barbecue restaurants, you’ll be surprised at how easy H Mart makes it to do the same kind of grilling at home. In the meat section you’ll find rows of frozen, thinly sliced pork belly, beef brisket, and more. You can simply grab your favorite, pair with some fresh lettuce and ssamjang (dipping sauce), and fire up your grill at home. You’ll also find pre-marinated bulgogi, pork, and chicken that are perfectly seasoned and ready to cook.
5. You can also shop for live seafood.
H Mart is committed to offering live seafood, so you’ll often see tanks of fresh lobster, abalone, and other shellfish. The fresh fish selection is also superb, including clear-eyed mackerel, shiny red snapper, and chubby porgies. Plus, the on-site fishmongers will efficiently prepare your selection based on how you want to cook it: filleted for grilling or cut for braising.
6. The home goods section is not to be missed.
Hands-down, my favorite section is centered around homewares. You can get all of your dinner-table essentials right at the grocery store: bowls, plates, silverware, and chopsticks. But the fun lies beyond the obvious. I highly recommend snagging a pair of kitchen scissors (a surprisingly useful tool for snipping scallions or breaking down a chicken), some barbecue tongs, and a barbecue grill plate for your Korean BBQ setup. It’s also my go-to for sourcing earthenware pots similar to donabes at a really good price.
7. The prepared foods could totally pass for homemade.
Every H Mart has a robust banchan section, where you can stock up on your favorite side dishes like seaweed salad, little fried anchovies, or soy sauce eggs. It’s not uncommon for busy Asian mothers and fathers to round out their dinner table with these pre-packaged banchan, begging the question, “Is it store bought or homemade?” Throughout the store you’ll find plenty of meal kits for your favorite Asian dishes as well, like ddukbokki (spicy rice cakes) or naengmyeon (cold noodles), making it easy to get your ready-to-eat K-food without having to go out or order in.
8. You can order select items online for delivery.
If you need to stock up on pantry staples but can’t make it to the store, H Mart offers online delivery. While the selection is limited to packaged and shelf-stable goods (you won’t find produce, meat, seafood, or housewares), it’s a great resource for ordering items like gochujang, shrimp chips, and instant ramen straight to your door.
9. You’ll want to sign up for the H Mart loyalty card.
If you plan on becoming a frequent visitor to your local H Mart, it’s worth signing up for the free loyalty program where you can rack up points for every dollar spent and receive $10 reward certificates for every 1000 points. You’ll also qualify for special sales and occasional e-coupons. Plus, you can download the handy app to your phone so you don’t have to remember to pack the store card every time you shop.
Are you a frequent H Mart shopper too? We’d love to hear your tips!