In several previous blogs, I have taken you to E-Mart, a big department store chain like a Super Wal-Mart in America equipped even with grocery stores. Lotte Mart and Home Plus are the two other large department store chains in Korea like E-Mart. I have also told you about the Supers, a kind of convenience store. However, there is another kind of store in Korea that is everywhere. It is the small very Korean grocery stores. In a town where there is no E-Mart, no Home Plus, and no Lotte Mart, they still have small grocery stores, and even in the big towns, they have these because the large department store chains can’t be in every neighborhood, but these small grocery stores can. In the large department stores, there is a better chance of finding imports and are a good place for foreigners to shop, but if you go to a small town, you still have to eat. I went to one of these stores the other day in my neighborhood because I didn’t want to drive all the way to E-Mart, and all I needed was some apples, so I figured one of these stores would have some, and it did. When I was out at Imjado, the island off the west coast of Korea for a week, there was only one of these on the whole island, but at least they had one because stores like E-Mart, Home Plus, and Lotte Mart probably don’t even know Imjado is there. These stores are very Korean, Korean stores, and I want to introduce you to one. You will see only Korean products in these stores, no imports.
These stores begin before you even go inside. There is always merchandise on the sidewalk in front of the store. Of course, this one has oranges out front because in Korea, oranges are considered extremely important, oranges from Jeju Island.
The picture above is what you see as you walk into this store. There is an ice cream freezer on the left full of different kinds of ice cream bars. If Korean stores have nothing else, they have ice cream. Next, you can see sweet potatoes, carrots, and potatoes. Sweet potatoes are extremely popular here, much more popular than in the States. They boil them, put them in tin foil, and carry them in their brief cases and purses to eat some time during the day. When I taught at a country school, someone often would boil a big pot of sweet potatoes and give them out to the teachers. My daughter has taken up the habit of taking boiled sweet potatoes to work with her too.
A daicon is a huge white radish. They are popular here. The bags of snacks are also very popular. The are all Korean snacks like potato chips, but also other lots of strange kinds of snacks. Koreans really love their snacks.
There are many different kinds of gochoojang. Gochoojang is red pepper paste. The Korean women use a lot of it in their cooking. It is very spicy.
Toilet paper is very popular in Korea because it is used as more than toilet paper. It is also used as napkins and paper towels in the kitchen. You can go into a restaurant and find toilet paper sitting on the tables to use as napkins.
There are many different kinds of coffee. These are not the same as what you find in America. They have small packages inside each box with coffee already mixed up. All you have to do is add a package to a small hot cup of water to have coffee. Some have milk, some have sugar, some have both, and some have none. These are also very popular in Korea.
We have rice in America, but we never sell it in bags this big. However, in Korea, a lot of things are sold in large portions, and rice is one of these things. Theoretically, they eat more rice than Americans, but they don’t eat as much rice as the Japanese. Many Koreans are always worried about their weight. Perhaps that is why they don’t eat as much rice as the Japanese.
You can find cold soda pop in these stores. However, if it is Coca Cola, Pepsi, or something you are familiar with, you are lucky. You definitely won’t be getting Coca Cola Zero here. There are many different kinds of Korean brands of soda pop, and that is usually all they sell in stores like this. They also sell different kinds of strange teas or Korean liquor in these bottles. If you are out in the country or off on an island like Imjado, you have to just put up with whatever you find and be adventurous if you want something good to drink.
You can’t just go to the meat department and buy a package of meat. You have to talk to the butcher and tell him what kind of meat you want. If he has it cut up in the display case, he will give it to you, but if not, he cuts it up on the spot.
In all Korean grocery stores, there is a place where someone is cooking and giving you samples of something. This cooking station is abandoned right now.
These stores are made for Koreans. In America, you find packaged mixes for Americans, and here in Korea, they have theirs too.
It really didn’t surprise me to find Special K in a Korean grocery store full of Korean things. Koreans are really into diets and watching their weight, so products like Special K can be very popular here.
You have now seen most of this store. As I was walking down the narrow aisles taking pictures, I was pushed aside by an ajuma twice. The aisles are very, very narrow, and the ajumas are very pushy! An ajuma is an older married Korean woman. They lose their manners as they get older. Everyone must listen to them, and if they don’t, these old women may run you down or beat you up! They didn’t even ask me to move so they could go by, but just pushed me aside and grabbed whatever they wanted. Akumas rule Korea. Ajumas are the ones who like to shop in these kinds of stores because of all the traditional Korean products, and they are the ones who know the Korean recipes. When I was out at Imjado, the island off the west coast, they tried to hire me to stay and teach English out there, but when I saw their grocery store, I knew there was no way I could live out of a store like that. There are small crowded grocery stores all over Korea in the smaller places like this.