The Asian supermarket has hit the big time on Long Island. Make that the huge time.
The 2-month-old Hmart in Jericho offers more than 60,000 square feet of lush produce, hopping-fresh fish, far-flung condiments, exotic sweets, a fascinating food court and enough noodles to reach Orient Point.
This is the third Hmart to open on Long Island, but it dwarfs the stores in Great Neck (about 20,000 square feet) and Williston Park (about 30,000). Not only is it big, it’s stylish and modern.
Hmart was founded in 1982 in Queens as “Han Ah Reum” (Korean for “One Arm Full of Groceries”). Nominally Korean, it strives to serve all Asian communities, and if you are well-versed in the cuisines of Asia, you are going to thank divine providence that such an emporium exists less than a half mile off the LIE (exit 41 South). If lack of access to authentic Asian ingredients was standing in the way of your stir-frying, it’s time to heat up the wok.
But any home cook will appreciate the selection, quality and prices here. (Hmart also meets most of your general supermarket needs—you’ll find products like Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Häagen-Dazs ice cream and Bounty paper towels.)
The store, formerly a Waldbaums, has a familiar layout and good signage (all foreign words are translated into English), but the sheer magnitude of the place is overwhelming. Take a deep breath. Here are 10 steps to guide you through your first visit.
They say you should never go grocery shopping if you are hungry. Disregard that at Hmart. The whole northern end of the store is given over to prepared foods, and there is a cordoned-off seating area in which to eat them. Ignore the salad bar, steam table and deli sandwiches and concentrate on the Korean specialties on the menu at K-Town, especially the bibimbap (beef and vegetables over rice, pictured), various spicy stews (with meat, fish and tofu) and noodle bowls. Nothing is more than $12.
Coffee and elegant, East-meets-West pastries can be had at Café l’Ami. For a more traditional Asian treat, head to the “Taiyaki” counter in the far corner for sweet, fish-shaped cakes made in a waffle iron and filled with sweet red bean paste or variations on cream cheese ($2.50-$2.99).
Hmart stocks a staggering selection of fruits and vegetables, and a truly international one. You’ve got all your standard American grapes, oranges, apples, carrots and potatoes. And then: giant, hairy Latin American yams (nothing like the sweet potatoes often so mislabeled); bunches of 3-foot-long burdock roots (which the Japanese like to pickle); dried jujubes (red Asian dates, not movie theater candy); fresh turmeric root (for immortality), boxes of sour tamarind pods (indispensable for Thai cooking); magenta dragonfruit that look like psychedelic hand grenades.
Tired of stir-frying broccoli? Pick up some Chinese broccoli (gai lan), yu choy (slightly thinner), choy sum (similar, but with white stems), bok choy (stubby with white stems) or aa choy (stem lettuce). These greens — and many more — range from 78 cents to $1.99 a pound. Among the most imposing items is jackfruit, pictured, a common ingredient in South and Southeast Asian cuisine. The fruits can weigh up to 80 pounds; most of the jackfruit here is less than 15 pounds and has been cut into 5- to 6-pound hunks for sale. Avoid the chunks with a lot of fibrous white flesh and no smell.
As South Korea has become a wealthy, industrialized country, its cuisine has evolved and expanded. But it is still based on foods that have nourished the nation for millennia, chief among them, kimchi, pictured. “There is no Korean meal without kimchi,” said Haeryun Choi, associate dean at LIU Post and an expert in Korean food and culture. The term connotes a huge variety of fermented vegetables, but is most closely associated with the fiery pickled cabbage that Hmart carries in sizes from decorous little containers to 8-pound plastic bags ($12.99).
Now a nation of meat-eaters, Choi said, historically Koreans relied on fish for protein and flavor. Dried anchovies, pictured, make their way into many Korean dishes, lending a subtle depth without overt fishiness. So prized are high-quality anchovies, that they are often given as presents, and at Hmart you can buy an elegant 2.2-pound “dried seafood gift set” containing three sizes — small to tiny — for $49.99.
Like all coastal Asian cultures, Koreans prize a huge variety of fish and like to see them whole so they can assess their freshness. On any given day at Hmart, you are likely to see dozens of whole fish: buffalo fish, carp, catfish, croaker, cod, flounder, fluke, grouper, kingfish, mackerel, milkfish, pollock, pompano, porgy, rainbow trout, red perch, sea bass, striped bass and tilapia, with prices ranging from $2.99 to $7.99 a pound. There’s fresh, and then there’s live: blue crabs ($1.99) twitch in their tub, pictured; Dungeness crabs lumber in their tank; conch ($4.99) just waits patiently.
Koreans also know that most of the shrimp’s flavor resides in its head; you’re going to see a whole lot of whole shrimp here. One day, wild Louisiana shrimp ($6.99 a pound), pictured, are piled in a heap, and samples of the same shrimp, cooked, are offered to passers-by. Wild black tiger shrimp, each significantly bigger than an iPhone and weighing in at almost half a pound, can be found in the open freezer cases for $22.99 a pound.
Wild black tiger shrimp in Hmart's fish section.
Koreans are among the biggest beef-eaters in Asia, and there’s no part of the cow they haven’t figured out how to use, said Haeryun Choi. But because cattle were traditionally used as draft animals, Korean cooks had to figure out how to make use of the tough meat. Enter bulgogi: thin slices of beef, marinated in soy and garlic and other aromatics, that stay tender whether they are quickly grilled or stir-fried. At Hmart, bulgogi gets a modern twist: a futuristic “bulgogi bar,” a series of stainless-steel tubs of marinated meats, each covered with a clear plastic dome lid, pictured. Shoppers can choose among 20 varieties, among them ribeye ($6.99 a pound) or “L.A. style” bone-attached short ribs ($9.99). Marinated chicken (wings, thighs and gizzards) and pork (including marinated jowl) are also available.
Proof of Korea’s prosperous present can also be seen at the butcher counter: Hmart sells a number of cuts of American Wagyu, the super-fatty beef from cattle related to Japanese Kobe. A fan-shaped formation of pieces of boneless short rib is $38.99 pound. To fully appreciate its richness, consider serving it raw, carpaccio style, with a dipping sauce of soy and grated fresh ginger.
Most supermarkets have a few shelves devoted to household items; at Hmart there is an aisle and a half. Haeryun Choi said that presents a wonderful opportunity “to get to know the culture. Little things explain so much.” Cotton plaid slippers ($1.99), pictured in bin, are a necessity in every Korean household because guests remove their shoes at the threshold. Colorfully embroidered cylindrical bed pillows stuffed with buckwheat ($29.99) are designed to keep the head low while one sleeps. Choi recommended the Korean-made lock-top plastic food containers (in sizes ranging from five ounces to five quarts) because “our containers have to seal very well so that the smell of kimchi doesn’t get out and get into everything else in the refrigerator.” Check out the underwear and aprons, too.
Of course there is every size and shape of cookware — from toddler-sized ceramic urns for storing kimchi to modern nonstick pots to tools and gadgets of every description. Rice cookers, pictured, are a staple appliance in Asian kitchens, and Hmart sells dozens of them, from a five-cup Koto model for $29.99 to the top-of-the-line Zojirushi “Induction Heating Pressure Rice Cooker & Warmer” which uses fuzzy logic, artificial intelligence, pressurized cooking and a platinum-infused nonstick inner cooking layer. It’s $599.
There’s Vietnamese fish sauce, Thai hot sauce, Chinese bean paste, Japanese rice vinegar to infinity and beyond. Hmart’s condiment section features literally thousands of jars and bottles and tins. Shoppers whose soy consciousness begins with Kikkoman and ends with Kikkoman low-sodium are in for a shock. Hmart carries those familiar U.S. sauces, but also the genuine Kikkoman articles made in Japan, Sempio from Korea, Koon Chun from Hong Kong, Kimlan from Taiwan, Wan Ja Shan organic soy made in Middletown, New York. So many authentic Asian recipes specify a type of soy sauce; here’s where you’ll find it.
Do not overlook the sesame oils. American cooks use this highly perishable oil sparingly and thus tend to buy it in small bottles. But Koreans are profligate with the stuff and prefer to buy it in quart-sized tins. The display at Hmart will remind you of an Italian grocer’s selection of extra-virgin olive oils: this is clearly a beloved ingredient, witness Samhak Premium wild sesame oil, $32.99 for 30 ounces.
Producing Asian dumplings and buns requires dexterity and experience. Thankfully, the finished products take beautifully to freezing. Hmart carries dozens of dumplings and buns that you need only steam, boil or pan fry at home to come pretty close to fresh, whether crab shumai, pork gyoza, roast pork buns or Philippine lumpia. It’s an open secret that many Asian restaurants use frozen dumplings as well — and you will probably recognize some of your favorites here. A “food-service” bag containing 4 pounds of vegetable-beef mandoo (Korean dumplings) is $17.99. Restaurants also make copious (if clandestine) use of frozen shellfish and Hmart has a vast array of frozen calamari, clams, mussels, oysters and crabs adjacent to the fresh fish counter. An 8-ounce bag of plump, meaty oysters is $4.99 — a perfect excuse to make oyster stew.
Less familiar but more intriguing is the fish-ball bar, pictured, a serve-yourself bin of 13 varieties of little spheres and cubes of finely ground fish (among them, pollock, shrimp and imitation lobster) and some form of starch. They have a firm, bouncy texture, said Haeryun Choi, and are an easy way to add protein to soups (simmer them about 10 minutes until they soften). The frozen dessert cases are a riot of colorful treats, including the intriguing Snow Ice Mango Shake. Each bag ($8.99) contains five individual packets of frozen, mango-flavored puree. You knead the packet until the puree is soft enough to be sucked through the tube at the top.
Rice and noodles
Rice and noodles form the backbone of virtually every Asian cuisine, and you can find them all here. Rice — short grain and long, basmati and jasmine and black and red — are available in such huge sacks (up to 50 pounds) that you may need help to heave them into your shopping cart. There are also single-serve containers of cooked, shelf-stable rice (white, brown, mixed grain) that need just a minute or so in the microwave — they are almost indistinguishable from freshly cooked.
Noodles appear in multiple aisles. Fresh ones are refrigerated and include such regional rarities as Chinese Fuzhou flat noodles, pictured, from Fuzhou in the South (roughly chopped into triangles to resemble Italian maltagliati) and hand-pulled noodles from Lanzhou in the North. There are even more dried noodles than fresh (Japanese udon, somen and ramen, Korean sweet potato vermicelli, Chinese chow mein, Vietnamese banh pho) and even more noodles (both dried and fresh) that are packaged with their own broth, needing only a soak or short boil in water to make a meal.
What’s the best way to sell an unfamiliar food? Let the customers try it. At Hmart, almost every aisle ends in a pot or platter attended by an enthusiastic (though not always fluent-in-English) employee. Steamed dumplings, head-on shrimp, grilled short ribs, seared pork belly, ginseng chicken, canned bai-top shell (sea snail). If you don’t mind eating on your feet, you can easily make a meal of foods that, an hour earlier, you didn’t know existed. Better still, you can repeat the experience in your own kitchen.
Erik Longabardi of Roslyn, tries a sample of duru duru mandu, a Korean dumpling.