Saturday, October 22, 2011

HMart: An Asian Wonderland!

Admittedly I've been slacking a little bit in the writing department this week. Late nights at work can do that. However, once the work week is through, on occasion, that paycheck should be blown hardcore on all things consumable. And here's another big revelation on the part of the writer, I'm of Asian decent. My mother, lovely little sprite she is, hails from Ibaraki, Japan, from a quaint little farming village known as Tokizaki. Growing up on foods like chouri├žo and peppers, clam chowder, clam cakes and coffee milk can occasionally be confusing when on certain hot summer days we were treated to feasts of cold somen noodles and futomaki or on cold winter nights, big plates of gyoza, or snacks of ochazuke soup with left over rice. It's all part of that little thing we know as heritage in these parts, because everybody's got a mom or a grandma that makes stuff that your neighbors have never heard of before. 
So like a good daughter, I've embraced those awesome meals that I've known in childhood, and later in life, those foods that I'd look forward to while living in Kawasaki City outside of Tokyo. But let's face it, whenever I have a craving for these things, they're not necessarily easy to find. Sure, I can buy rice at different supermarkets. And I have had some success in locating inari skins, and furikake to sprinkle on rice at the CMart in Boston's Chinatown. But for the more exotic goods, I've had to head down to Jersey to Mitsuwa, the closest Japanese supermarket. 
That is, until fairly recently. Lucky for us, Hmart, a Korean supermarket has opened in nearby Burlington, MA. And it's an amazing supermarket. With a huge array of Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese deliciousness, I find myself wandering these aisles with "eyes bigger than my stomach" sickness, hence why it's best to visit on a Friday night after securing one's paycheck. Whether you're of Asian decent or not, I wholeheartedly encourage you to take a trip to Hmart, especially if you've got kids. Encouraging one's natural curiosity in exotic foodstuffs can only be a good thing, and man they've got some beautiful fish, meat, and produce. Or if you're the type that's on a budget, they've got noodles upon noodles upon noodles, and good noodles, not your typical Maruchan Yakisoba crap. ("What's a yakisoba?" Ugh. That commercial probably even pisses off the midwestern folk that it's marketed towards.) At any rate, if you're intimidated, let's take a little photo trip to Hmart...

So pull into the little parking lot, and hopefully there's a place to park, as Hmart is always packed with people that generally don't drive all that well (not racist, just true). As you approach the entrance, there's a whole slew of produce outside, including pumpkins, some flowers, and on this occasion...
Pineapples upon pineapples!
Enter the store, look to your left, and you may discover a neatly stacked pile of different Asian cookies. The favorite among our little clan are the Japanese koala cookies. There are actually many different chocolate filled biscuits sporting koala pictures on the front of the large octagonal box. But if you want the best, you must look for these, a favorite of my brother in law, currently stationed in Afghanistan (come home safely, Kev! We miss you!)
Kevin's favorite koala cookies

Let's wander a little further into the store, look to your right, and you'll find the little Korean bakery, known as Tous Le Jours, featuring some delicious breads and pastries.
Tous Les Jours
Alright onto the big show. We've got the produce section with plenty of bok choy, taro root, daikon, apples, Chinese broccoli, dragon fruit, and perhaps today you might like some fresh...
Persimmons?
There are also a ton of mushrooms available. We walked away at the end of the day with some delicious looking king oyster mushrooms which are currently simmering away on my stove. However, perhaps you might also like some...
wood ear mushrooms and enokis?
Walk past all of the unusual and fresh produce and you will find yourself in the pickle room! There's so much kimchi of different varieties available in this little refrigerated room that you head might spin. There are tons of prepacked banchan items in plastic boxes, but if you'd like to pick your own, there's sort of a salad bar in the middle of the room where you can choose your pickled daikon, or marinated clams, or varieties of spicy garlic shoots. Take a look at the...
Spiced baby crabs (center)!


Alright, so now that you've picked up your array of pickles and kimchi, you're probably going to want to head over to the fresh noodles and imported cakes/sweets section. Here is where I'll look for the most unusual treat that I've frequently purchased in the basement of Mitsukoshi Department Store in Tokyo. There in the basement food section, I'd find the strangest little stand of bakers making baumkuchen, a sort of German layered cake. Oddly enough, they've got slices here of my beloved Japanese version of...
Baumkuchen!
And underneath the cake, I find my favorite mochi dessert of all time, often filled with sweet red bean paste, and giving you the most wonderful chewy texture that only mochi can provide. Yes, my friends it's a huge selection of...
Daifuku!
Continue down the first aisle on the left that you see, and there's where you'll find so many different varieties of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese noodles. There's bundles of instant ramen noodle type dishes, as well as individual servings of yakisoba, and different cup o'noodles. However, a little further down you will find a large display of different national dried noodles. We came away with somen, higamugi, soba, and udon. Here take a look...
Noodles as far as the eye can see!
Head back up the noodle aisle, and you'll come smack in front of the fish counter, where there are both imported and locally caught fish. I could buy any variety of sushi grade tuna or salmon, or some squid to prepare at home, but what really caught my eye was something local that we don't often cook here because of so many bones, and yes, Hmart had it, and at a really great price. I should try cooking some...
Porgy!
Continue past the fish aisle, and you find a large selection of dried fishes, which are definitely some of my mother's favorite foods. She'll snack on them like there's no tomorrow. But they're also delicious and crunchy when sprinkled on rice, or used as part of a stock...
Tons of dried little fishes for various uses
Perhaps you're actually looking for some prepared sushi to bring home. There's sashimi grade fish everywhere you look, spanning from single servings of tuna or salmon, but also available in...
Individually packed varieties for a home feast!
What else was interesting at Hmart? Hmm... well, how about that treat that my bigger half absolutely can't stand because it kind of smells like feet after it's cooked. I swear by it though. It's good for digestion. It has an interesting slimy texture. On top of rice, it's really the savory breakfast of champions... yes, at Hmart, they have a...
Wall of frozen natto!
Then there are those among us who don't venture so deep into strange and nasty as I, and tend to have loopy cravings for the favorite among anyone who has blood coursing through their veins. That's right. You might want a cookie. You might want a biscuit that nobody can say no to. It's fun to eat, and it leaves your hands nice and clean. They have the ultimate selection of...
Pocky and pocky knock offs!
And of course, after all of this sweet and salty, if you've not run your bank account down to its limit, you're probably going to need to wash it down with some...
Pocari Sweat! A Japanese favorite beverage, perhaps only
second in popularity to Calpis.
So that's my little tour of Hmart. They really have everything. It's a good way to spend an hour, and a good way to get your appetite going. Furthermore, if you have any sort of an Asian recipe that calls for exotic ingredients that are unavailable at the local Market Basket, odds are that you can find them here, and the friendly staff can help you out, as opposed to my occasional difficulties experienced at supermarkets in Chinatown. I hope you take an afternoon and spend some time looking at the foods that were largely unavailable in Massachusetts until recently, all thanks to Hmart. Have fun!

DETAIL RUNDOWN:

3 Old Concord Rd

Burlington, MA 01803


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