Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Costco Wholesale's accent is becoming much more pronounced

A quiet day at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack. (February 2013)

Editor's note: A lot has changed since I wrote this post in 2011. Pine Hill, the Korean restaurant in Paramus I mentioned, has closed. And I no longer buy the farmed shrimp from Costco; I pay more for wild-caught, usually from the Gulf of Mexico (January 2016).


On my first visit to Costco Wholesale since Sept. 9, I was surprised at two of the items I saw on the shelves.

Imported items from Korea are nothing new. After all, there are eight Costco warehouse stores in Korea, and thousands of Korean-Americans living in North Jersey.

But the 3-kilo tub of spicy red-pepper paste stopped me in my tracks. Koreans call it gochujang, and use it in many dishes or like ketchup. The other day, I used leftover Chinese takeout brown rice, kimchi and gochujang to make kimchi fried rice.

Unfortunately, this imported brand lists corn syrup as the first ingredient, and it's rated only medium spicy. I buy smaller containers of the vinegared red-pepper paste made with sugar at H Mart in Little Ferry.

Costco gets an "A" for effort, but this brand isn't the best available. I recall when refrigerated jars of cabbage kimchi showed up at the Hackensack Costco, and MSG was listed as an ingredient.

I continued to buy my artisanal, all-natural Arirang-brand kimchi in Englewood. 

I did pick up a box of Korean roasted, seasoned seaweed at Costco. Twenty-seven packages -- each .18 ounces -- were $9.99 or 37 cents each. They make great snacks.

The other item that stopped me in the aisle today was a jar of tahina or tahini from Lebanon, and this popular sesame paste is possibly the first imported Middle Eastern item I've seen at the Hackensack warehouse store. 

Tahini is an essential component of hummus, and can be used as a salad dressing with the addition of lemon juice and garlic.

Around the world

The gochujang and tahini extend Costco's already impressive global reach.

In my basket at checkout today were:

A wedge of Grana Padano cheese from Italy, $9.99 a pound; two 2-pound jars of Kalamata olives from Greece, $2.24 a pound. 

Wealthy Greeks have said "no" to taxes for so long, the country is on the verge of collapse, but the olives keep on coming.

The refrigerated soups are back in the cold case, and I picked up Alaskan King Crab and Sweet Corn Chowder from Legal Sea Foods, $9.79 for two 20-ounce containers; and CedarLane brand Chopped Vegetable and Barley Soup, $8.99 for two 2-pound containers.

I also picked up a new item from Kirkland Signature, the Costco store brand: three, generous 32-ounce jars of Marinara sauce at $2.09 each. The ingredient list is short, and no sugar or corn syrup is used.

I usually add a can of anchovies with their oil to bottled pasta sauce, along with dried herbs. The anchovies cook away, but leave behind a robustness.

My last two items were U-15 farmed shrimp from Vietnam for dinner tonight, $10.99 a pound; and Oliveri brand 7-Cheese Tortellini, $9.39 for 3 pounds, not 4 pounds, as I wrote originally.

The shrimp, tortellini and Marinara made a great dinner, with a salad of organic spring mix and a glass of wine.

Exploring our options

If you avoid beef, Korean restaurants offer a wide variety of healthy food, including tofu, vegetables, seafood and bracing stews that can be prepared from mild to spicy.

One of our favorite dinners is a stew of soft tofu, accompanied by a fresh egg that you cook in the bubbling broth, side dishes and steamed rice. 

Breaking the  softly boiled yolk over rice and eating them together is a highlight of the meal, which is available for under $10.

For many years, our go-to place has been So Gong Dong, a second-floor soft-tofu house on Broad Avenue in Palisades Park, where about 10 varieties of soft tofu (pork, beef, oyster and so forth) are available, in addition to dumplings, seafood pancakes and barbecue. 

But as I've done periodically in recent years, I am trying soft tofu at other restaurants just to make sure So Gong Dong is still the best for Korea's beloved comfort food.

Soft-tofu stew at So Gong Dong in Palisades Park.

Two Korean restaurants

On Tuesday night, I stopped at Pine Hill, a Korean restaurant in Paramus to try its soft-tofu stew or soondooboo jigae.

It's listed on the full Korean menu for $10.95, compared to So Gong Dong's $9.99, which includes four side dishes, rice and tax.

After I ordered, a waitress brought me seven side dishes, but I sent back cabbage with slices of boiled ham, because I am not eating meat, though I acknowledge the broth used in most soft-tofu stew is beef based.

There were a couple of problems at Pine Hill. 

The side dishes were terrific, including cabbage kimchi, bean sprouts, seaweed, chunks of yam in a maple syrup-like sauce and stewed tofu, but the waitress didn't bring me a fresh egg with the soft-tofu stew.

When I asked for one, she went away and didn't return until long after my stew had stopped bubbling, and then she brought me an egg souffle, not a fresh egg. 

The broth of the tofu stew was nothing special, certainly no match for So Gong Dong's spicy version, which I enjoyed last weekend.

The search continues.

Pine Hill Restaurant, 123 Paramus Road, Paramus; 201-843-0170. 
Parking lot, liquor license.

So Gong Dong, 118 Broad Ave., Second Floor, Palisades Park; 
201-313-5550. Valet or street parking, BYO.

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  1. There's a new Korean-Chinese noodle place in Palisades Park called Ah Woo Rang (449 Broad Ave
    2nd Floor). Haven't tried it yet, but I heard it's worth checking out.

  2. Thanks. You've heard they make their own noodles, as other places do?

  3. i been to the new korean noodle place twice already. i don't think they hand-make the noodles but they do make their own noodles. try the sweet & sour pork and fried rice. the best in the neighborhood.

  4. That vegetable barley soup from Costco is really good. Helps me definitely kill a lot of cravings while on my diet and it's only around 300 calories for my sized portion (1-2 cups).

    1. Tonite I chewed a whole fingernail found in a Cedarlane Organic barley and vegetable soup bought at Costco in Culver City, Ca.

    2. Sounds delicious. Whose fingernail?

    3. And thanks to the person who says the soup helps with a diet.

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  6. found and chewed on a whole fingernail in a ORGANIC vegetable and barley soup made by Cedarlane and sold at Costco on washington blvd in Culver city. YUK DISGUSTING.

    1. Did you complain to the company that makes it or to Costco? How do you know it was a fingernail? If you saved it, you might be able to get several hundred thousand dollars in compensation.

    2. I also emailed To Costco customer service but didn't hear back yet. From my research on the internet, it appears that I will not be entitled to any compensation because there was no injury
      I only hope I did not eat a whole ground up finger from a person with aids.

    3. I'm pretty sure if you contact the company and relay your experience, they will do something for you.

      "Injury" is a factor in a lawsuit; you're just asking for some reward for the awful experience you had. Did you document it with a photo of the fingernail?


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