by Lorraine Cherry
Beyond this Point There Be Dragons: Venturing into the Unknown for Lunch
We’re going on an adventure! Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country, with a huge (yuuuuuge??) variety of ethnic markets. So, we can spend a few hours visiting a foreign country by driving just a couple of miles down the road.
Recently, we decided to lunch and shop at Super H Mart, the Korean supermarket located at the corner of Blalock and Westview where the old Randall’s used to be. Korean food is something of a mystery to many Americans, who assume that it’s all about charcoal grilled beef, heavy on the garlic, spicy kimchi on the side. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there’s a lot more to it, as you will find out on your first visit. Entering Super H Mart, there’s a string of about eight food stalls off to the right featuring various kinds of popular Korean street food. For a very modest amount of money, you can get: large bowls of spicy seafood noodle soup; sizzling hot stone bowls with rice, meat or seafood, fresh vegetables, and an egg on the top to mix and match with multiple small dishes of pickles and kimchi; addictively chewy rice cakes (which actually look like short fat noodles) served with an equally addictive Korean chili sauce; vegetable pancakes with spicy sesame sauce; hand-made noodles with black bean sauce. Most of the shop owners speak English, so you can ask questions about spiciness, does it have meat, etc. Pick one, grab a seat, and wait until they call your number. Dig in!
After eating, you can explore the mix of familiar and wildly unfamiliar foods available in the grocery department. This is my go-to place for large perfect shitake mushrooms and the wonderful shishito peppers (packaged here as “sweet peppers”) that are being grilled and served as bar food at all the hottest restaurants in town. There’s an extensive seafood counter that includes some exotic options such as monkfish and skate wings. (As with most seafood stores, it’s usually best to stick with whole fish so that you can judge the freshness.) A kimchi bar has dozens of spicy and not so spicy varieties. And wander down aisle after aisle of Asian foods that you may never have seen before. For example: If you like sriracha chili sauce, you owe it to yourself to try gochujang, a hot and sweet sauce (but not too hot and not too sweet) that is an every-day condiment in Korea. It’s one of my new favorites to add to stir-fries, barbecue sauce, marinades.
Lastly, take a look at some of the interesting pastries in the French/Korean bakery (“Tous de Jours”) located right next to the entrance. The bakery is separate from the grocery store, so you need to pay for your baked goods there. They have interesting rolls, some stuffed with pumpkin or red bean paste. Avoid the butter cream bread—soft fluffy bread stuffed with sweetened, flavored, butter cream frosting—unless you REALLY like things that are very, very sweet. Some people do, but I’m just sayin’…
So, take advantage of living in Houston and go on an adventure. You’ll find Super H Mart at 1302 Blalock Road, open from 8 am to 10 pm daily.