|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).
By VICTOR E. SASSON
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
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.