Shopping for groceries can make you hungry. This is a good thing if you’re in a Korean supermarket, where eating pre-made food on site is a tradition. In most Korean markets, a food stall or small restaurant will be only a few steps away.
When you’re done shopping, you can stow your bundles and dive into a spicy kimchi casserole, fresh dumplings, ramen soup or rice cakes slathered with intense red sauce. Or you just might skip the shopping and go solely to eat. Picture menus and signs in English make ordering easy.
Here are five markets around L.A. that serve everything from sushi to kimbap to bulgogi.
This large supermarket opened recently on the lower level of Madang Plaza in Koreatown. Its single food stall is a branch of the Japanese chain Sushiboy. To find it, walk to the far end of the market, past all the aisles of packaged goods.
Sushiboy’s menu offers lots of sushi, obviously, but also salads, noodles and tuna, plus beef and chicken bowls. Look for specials such as a ramen sushi set for $8.95, which includes a large stoneware bowl of ramen in miso soup and a side dish of sushi. The soup comes in three flavors: spicy, plain or “black,” which has a pleasant toasty flavor from garlic and includes sliced pork.
On the side you get four California rolls made with imitation crab (at this price, who’s fussing?) and one shrimp and one tuna nigiri. Soy sauce and wasabi are on the condiment counter. There are plenty of tables and chairs, and you get a validation for two hours in the plaza parking structure.
H Mart, 612 S. Manhattan Place, Koreatown; (213) 235-9560; hmart.com
The eating area at the far end of this market is small, only three tables. That’s a pity because there’s so much to choose from. In addition to three food stalls, there are counters laden with ready-to-eat packaged food like teriyaki chicken.
For a snack, try dumplings from Nae Mamdu Mandu (“mandu” is Korean for dumplings), where you can watch them being made. Fillings include kimchi, vegetables and pork, and four will set you back $6. Start with these, then order noodle soup from Jang Tuh. The large bowl of mild broth contains fine noodles, shredded seaweed and crumbled fried tofu. The small patch of red in the seaweed is chile; stir it in, if you want a spicier flavor. A bowl is $5. For $2 more, you can get the stall’s other specialty, Korean-style sushi rolls. They’re called kimbap or, as the stall spells it, “kimbob.” Kim means seaweed and bap is rice.
In between these two stalls is Cocohodo, known for walnut-shaped pastries filled with red bean paste and nuts. The smallest order is a bag of nine for $3.75.
Zion Market inside City Center, 3500 W. 6th Street, Koreatown; (213) 383-3435; zionmarket.com
Duri Snack is a serious Korean restaurant tucked into its own alcove in this Van Nuys market. Main dishes come with assorted banchan, rice and broth, as if you were in a full-service Koreatown restaurant.
Oddly, the menu also includes Louisiana-style fried chicken and buffalo wings. Aside from these, the food is all Korean. Duri’s kimchi casserole is a mouth sizzler, super-spicy and burning hot in temperature. The bowl contains pork, tofu and clear noodles in addition to kimchi.
Sauteed spicy squid might be a safer choice. It’s spicy but sweet and only $8.99 with side dishes included. Of the 35 dishes posted on the menu above the window to the kitchen, 10 are labeled spicy. Milder options include teriyaki chicken, sweet-and-sour soba noodle salad, steamed dumplings and sautéed glass noodle chow mein.
If you’re not hungry enough for a full meal, go for the kimbap (called “vegetable rice roll” on the menu), which you can watch being made in the kitchen.
Greenland Market, 17643 Sherman Way, Van Nuys; (818) 708-7396
Han Kook (HK) Supermarket
Hungry for bulgogi (barbecued beef) or the mixed-rice dish bibimbap? You can find them at Wool Um Ma, which occupies a front corner of the HK Supermarket on Western. Other dishes include short-rib soup, fried squid, kimchi fried rice and pork dumplings, which come fried, boiled or in soup with rice pasta.
If you want to try a quintessential Korean snack, order the Number 8: spicy rice cake with fish cake. The Korean name is tteokbokki, which is what you may hear when you’re summoned to pick up your order. The chewy, tubular rice cakes are drenched with spicy sweet red sauce and topped with thin triangles of fish cake, carrot strips and onion. To relieve the heat, you can crunch on cold, crisp, sweet radish pickles, which come with the dish And check the banchan counter near the restaurant on your way out for a large assortment of side dishes that you can have packed to take home.
Han Kook Market, 124 N Western Avenue; Koreatown; (323) 469-8934; hankooksupermarket.com
Inside Hannam Chain is a really cute Japanese café, with lights that resemble lanterns and blue noren curtains. This is Yanusa Sushi, where at peak times, you’re lucky to get a seat in the small space (there are only five spots at the counter and just four tables).
Ordering is easy since menus are all over the place — on the tables, on the wall, over the counter and in front. Sushi dominates, and they serve both Japanese-style and Korean kimbap. There are noodles, too, including ou-dong, which is Japanese udon with a Korean spelling.
If any one dish stands out, it’s the fish rice, which is like bibimbap, sashimi and green salad rolled into one. At the bottom of the bowl is rice, covered with a layer of shredded lettuce, then cubes of raw salmon, tuna and whitefish, carrot and cucumber strands. On top, there’s fish roe, black and white sesame seeds and radish sprouts.
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Fish rice is $9.63 and comes as a complete meal, with miso soup, sweet radish pickles, spicy red radish strips and a mug of water. The salad needs no seasoning, although customers have been known to douse theirs with gochujang.
Hannam Chain, 2750 W. Olympic Boulevard; Koreatown; (213) 382-2922