Tuesday, July 14, 2015

For fresh fish, good food and more, shop and eat where Koreans do

For dinner on Sunday night, I enjoyed a whole fresh black sea bass from H Mart -- baked in an aluminum-foil pouch for 30 minutes at 450 degrees with fresh tomato, onion, garlic and lime juice. You'll also need a spoon to enjoy the resulting soup.


The biggest H Mart in Bergen County also is the busiest, and parking in the big lot can be tough.

But on Sunday afternoon, to my surprise, there were plenty of empty spaces at the Super H Mart in Ridgefield.

The shopping challenge was inside -- narrow aisles and customers with carts stopping for free food samples -- every four or five feet it seemed -- more than at the other H Marts in Fort Lee, Englewood, Leonia and Little Ferry (weekends only).

If you've never tried Korean food, here is an ideal place to sample cooked and dried fish and other seafood; tofu, soup, cold or hot noodles, dumplings, meat, sausage and the traditional side dishes that accompany every meal.

Adding to the shopping experience, Korean-American college students and other food samplers call out what they are offering in Korean.

But when I had questions -- such as, "Is there any meat in that?" -- all of the ones I spoke to on Sunday were bilingual.

The night before, we drove to Palisades Park for dinner at So Gong Dong, a popular restaurant for Korean comfort food -- soft-tofu stew with all the trimmings for only $10.

The fresh seafood selection is so big fish is displayed on plenty of ice on both sides of the counter, and customers can chose what they want with tongs, put their purchase in a plastic bag and hand it over for free cleaning. Fish can be left whole, cut into steaks, filleted or prepared in other ways.

A confusing sign on fresh wild salmon lists two species, Sockeye and Coho.

Among the many free food samples on Sunday was cooked top shell, also called whelk or sea snail, dipped in a spicy sauce.

Wild-caught red snapper.

Whole Monkfish Tail was $5.99 a pound. So was the Black Sea Bass, and the four I purchased for our Sunday dinner averaged a little over 1 pound each. 

Organic lettuce

My other purchases included Organic Red Leaf Lettuce for $1.99, a better buy than the same lettuce grown conventionally for $1.49.

A 15-pound bag of Kokuho Yellow Label Rice, grown in California, was $9.99, a savings of $7.

A large, heavy watermelon was $6.49, and three bunches of scallions were 99 cents.

We love kimbap, a sliced seaweed-and-rice roll stuffed with vegetables and fish cake, but a small package prepared in the store was pricey at $5.49.

H Mart Smart Card

If you forget your ShopRite Price Plus Club Card, you can enter your phone number into a terminal and get the deals associated with it on the spot.

But if you forget your H Mart Smart Card, you have to return to the store with your receipt to be credited for the 1% rebate associated with it ($10 after your purchases total $1,000, and special coupons).

A few days after I wrote this, I took back two receipts, but was given credit for only one. I was told no credit is given for receipts more than a month old.

Also, the large Super H Mart lot has only three parking-lot corrals for shopping carts, and your car could be damaged by another customer who doesn't bother returning a cart to one of them.

The biggest H Mart in Bergen County is in Ridgefield.


Super H Mart, 321 Broad Ave., Ridgefield; 1-201-943-9600. Open 7 days, free parking in large lot.

This H Mart is in a shopping center with other Korean businesses, including a bakery, restaurants and an appliance store.

So Gong Dong in Palisades Park specializes in complete soft-tofu dinners, but you also can find B.B.Q. Squid with Spicy Sauce, an unusually hot gochujang, for $12.99, including two kinds of kimchi and three other side dishes. The squid was very tender, but I needed a pair of scissors to separate the rings.

Pajun, a grilled seafood-and-scallion pancake made from rice flour, is $11.99, and can be shared by four to six. 

Clockwise from top, pickled radish, bean sprouts, cucumber kimchi, cabbage kimchi, a dipping sauce for the grilled pancake and seaweed in gochujang, a red-pepper paste.

My wife's stone bowl of soft tofu was bubbling furiously when brought to the table, ideal for poaching the fresh egg that comes with it. This bowl of Pork Soft Tofu is Medium Spicy, one of the spice levels you can specify.

So Gong Dong offers 11 soft-tofu stews with a fresh egg, steamed rice and five side dishes, a complete meal for $9.99 (rounded up to $10 on the check, including tax).

Big tables are designed to accommodate multi-generational families or groups of men.


So Gong Dong, 118 Broad Ave., Second Floor, Palisades Park; 1-201-313-5550Free parking on side streets. 

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