H-Mart: a fantastic Korean salad of diversity

May 31, 2017 — by Ryan Kim and Navin Tiwary

Although extremely popular, Korean markets haven’t found their way to Saratoga yet. So when H-Mart opened on April 5 in the De Anza Shopping Center in San Jose, hordes of local residents lined up, making the waiting time to get in more than half an hour long and parking in the plaza nearly impossible.

After we heard about how popular H-Mart was, we decided to check it out, hoping to find Korean food and products near and dear to our hearts. We waited two weeks before we went to H-Mart, expecting the initial hype to have died out by then, but we could not have been more wrong. Even after weeks of opening, the store and its parking lot were extremely crowded.

As soon as we entered the supermarket, we noticed rows of fresh produce, ranging from purple sweet potatoes to yellow Korean pears.

The market itself resembled a hodgepodge of different grocery stores. The entrance and aisles of fruits and vegetables reminded us of a fusion of Safeway and Super Kyo-po Market, another more traditional Korean market in Santa Clara. The free samples resembled those from Costco, while the food court in the corner paralleled Lawrence Plaza food court.

The market’s interior design also combined old and new architectural styles. While the food court walls were made of vintage-style wood, electric neon signs glowed throughout the fish and meat section. We were not only awed by the design of the store but also by the number of quality packaged meat products that lined two walls and a middle aisle, far better than the meats found at other markets.

The store is still in its early phase, as evidenced by the piles of boxes littering the already cramped pathways and obstructing the long lines of people and carts. The only major discomfort is the cramped aisleways; it’s difficult to maneuver shopping carts around when there are boxes and shelves everywhere. However, even with its tight spacing, the market was well organized: Products were easy to find, and the flow of customers moved with surprising efficiency despite its cramped interior.

As for pricing, most H-Mart pre-made products like soy sauce, red chili paste, and noodles are more expensive here. The meat pricing at H-Mart is similar to those at other Korean supermarkets like Super Kyo-po Market, but H-Mart meat is of much higher quality.

Aside from the market’s great variety of products ranging from Korean food to Japanese and Chinese snacks, it also features a food court area that sells varieties of Korean food such as Korean BBQ and Korean-Japanese fusion hamburger steaks. We were surprised at the exquisite sauces and high quality meat of the Korean BBQ bar, especially those of the marinated beef and rice.

It’s clear that H-Mart fits the bill as the standard inexpensive but quality-goods Asian supermarket. With cheap products that more than satisfy consumers’ needs, the market is the perfect local place for great deals. Our prediction is that this market will become a major competitor to the Koreatown in Santa Clara. It’s easily accessible for Saratogans — albeit having very cramped parking — and combines the best characteristics of other markets in the Bay Area. With its fusion of both Western and Korean cultures, H-Mart appeals to Koreans and non-Koreans alike.