That time I went to a grocery store and forgot to buy food. The new H-Mart on Lakeline Blvd.
H-Mart and 99 Ranch are the 2nd and third Asian Supermarket chains to make landfall in Austin, bringing Oriental foods and goods to a population hungry for them. Literally hungry for the chance to buy some Asian produce, frozen foods, and meats from the butcher shop. H-mart is amazing. It is huge and overwhelming in its scale. It feels like a lofted Whole Foods with our familiar Asian goodies being displayed and framed so purposefully throughout the store.
It’s like seeing some old flip flops under a glass case in a museum. The distance between you and the object is somehow greater, somehow insurmountable. Did I mention it is overwhelming? So much care and thought has gone into each aisle and display it’s almost too nice to grab and throw into your cart.
I attribute this phenomenon and some other happenings to the fact that I left H-Mart empty-handed
FIRST WE FEAST
Primarily we came here for lunch. We wanted to see if they had ramen or some kind of noodle soup. What we didn’t know was that we were about to have our minds blown by fried chicken. Korean fried chicken, especially chicken wings, are a thing to behold. They are like no other. I usually shy away from crispy batter coatings on wings but I’ll gladly make an exception for wings. The #3 Plate from Donkey Mo’s was divine perfectly battered chicken thighs with sesame sauce. We paired it up with some Kimbap from Mix around the corner and Jigae Ramen from Tofu House. Admittedly we went a little nuts and added on some tasty croquettes and herbed french fries too.
The ramen wasn’t my favorite thing on the table – the chicken thighs really stole the show. Having been to both P. Terry’s and Dan’s Hamburgers in the past week I found the fries from Donkey Mo’s superior to all fries in Austin. Bold statement, I get it. But these fries are really good with no additional firepower like queso or kimchi. Just good double fried fries. Fries are a mark of a good kitchen. So good and worth the calories when done right, absolute garbage when done poorly.
The ramen – well – I chose a pork Jigae with mild spiciness. I figured I had to get some kind of ramen and this is what they had. Tasty, lots of tofu, but ramyun (Korean ramen) tends to have less bite in their noodles. The broth itself was very tasty but lacked the depth and heft I usually associate with ramen.
I also started to react slightly to something in the broth – some shellfish or fish sauce maybe – and decided instead to enjoy the Kimbap and chicken more in the ramen’s stead.
Kimbap. It’s like cornbread. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Kimbap is like sushi’s cousin if sushi’s cousin drank just a little harder and liked lounging at dive bars at night. This is Korean picnic food. I’m used to having these with spinach and sausages in them along with some fried egg and pickled daikon.
Basically everything was really decent and we stowed away enough for 2 more meals having dropped about $30 for two people. Not the hell bad.
We topped it off with something sweet from the front which was pretty easy to find. In fact it was hard not to just buy more pastries. Here they were, Mexican bakery style. Grab your tray and your tongs and do work, son.
The rest of the store? Have I mentioned that it was daunting? So wonderfully laid out and placed that I bought not a thing? This place is beautiful. You don’t go to Whole Foods for groceries – you go to be seen in the organic section buying fair trade sprouts. Maybe this is the same thing?
Shoot I dunno. This place was amazing. I was stuffed to the gills with great food for less than $15 a person and was so happy to see the sights of a functioning and clean Asian market. One where you don’t have to brave a parking lot of Toyota Siennas trying to kill you or hold your breath in the back third of the store.
I would love to have H-Mart in my neighborhood. I would eat there regularly and likely would buy most of my produce there. I would likely eat more fish and less wheat were there an H-Mart nearby, but so it goes. Holy Hell H-Mart. Well done. Holy Hell I will be back soon.