Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Day in and day out, food shoppers love to hate the H Mart in Little Ferry

At the H Mart on Bergen Turnpike in Little Ferry, two of the biggest complaints among shoppers are the potholes and mini lake of water in the parking lot, above, and the dual wheelchair ramps customers must use to reach the entrance, below.
Inside, the shabby entrance way, below, wouldn't be out of place in the third world.


Food shopping can be good exercise, especially if you park your car far from the store entrance.

At the H Mart in Little Ferry, the Korean management doesn't give you much choice. 

On Sunday, the parking lot was flooded from a recent snowfall, and I didn't want to splash through the water in my car, which I had had cleaned the day before.

Employees say H Mart doesn't own the property, and can't force the landlord to repair the parking lot.

Korean specialties

Still, I shop at this H Mart -- the shabbiest major supermarket in North Jersey -- for fresh fish, a wide selection of fresh Asian greens, fruit and California-grown white rice, usually at low prices, and because it is relatively close to my home.

I also love such prepared Korean specialties as stewed pollack, japchae and kimbap, though prices for them have risen dramatically in the past year or so.

The weekends also mean free samples of seafood, noodles and other items, but they tend to come and go at the whim of the managers or you might be scolded for taking more than one piece of a grilled rice-flour pancake.

Many complaints

Shoppers have complained about the Little Ferry H Mart on Yelp:

A woman from Palm Harbor, Fla., said this about her visit in December:
"I'm giving this place three stars because they are smaller than the other HMARTS I have been to. I'm not sure if it was just me, but I couldn't find their prepared foods. I feel like this location definitely needs a renovation as it looks exactly the same as it did fifteen years ago. Their selection is okay but again not the best. I would only recommend coming here if it is the closest Korean market to you, and there is no way you can go to another location. As for me, I don't think I would ever be returning to this location."
A man from Rutherford visited last April and praised only the fruit:
"I think they use The H-Mart parking lot for the filming of 'Battle of Stalingrad', craters, drowning pools with dead sea gulls floating, decaying desolation everywhere to go along with the rundown exterior of the H-Mart building, which itself still contains the closed down hulk of the old Valley Fair department store. Than you need to climb a giant ramp to enter the store, past a dingy liquor store and then, and then, then you find yourself in a oases of colorful fresh fruits. Korean Melons and Pears, Japanese Persimmons, Dragon fruit. Kumquats, Chinese Litchi and Star fruit. Beautiful just beautiful.
This is the best part of the market. After this, it begins to run down again and if you walk to the other end you have the fishy smelling fish market. BLAH.
Who is running this place? Only the produce manager cares; the only reason I come here is for the fruits."

All the other Bergen County supermarkets in the Korean chain (Fort Lee, Ridgefield and Englewood) are newer or have been renovated.

And there have been rumors for the last couple of years that a new store and food court will be built in the vacant half of the sprawling former Valley Fair building at 360 Bergen Turnpike, Little Ferry.

But so far, H Mart has only announced that a new store will open on Route 17 north in Paramus.

Still, there have been signs of construction on the Little Ferry building.

Work on the enormous former Valley Fair building began last year, above and below, but so far appears to be confined to the foundation, which looks like it was built on stilts to avoid floodwaters.

Shoppers put up with the Little Ferry H Mart in hopes of finding bargains on produce, such as two heads of red-leaf lettuce for 99 cents, above.

A 5-pound box of Spanish Clementines was $3.99 on Dec. 4, but on Sunday, the price was back to $7.99. The day before, Whole Foods Market in Closter also was selling a 5-pound box of clementines for $7.99. A 15-pound bag of California-grown Kokuho Yellow Label Rice was $9.99 at H Mart.
Korean-style Stewed Alaskan Pollack is a long-time favorite, but I was alarmed to see for the first time that monosodium glutamate, a controversial ingredient, is being added to the prepared fish dish I brought home on Sunday from the Little Ferry H Mart. Jinga of Queens, N.Y., also is adding corn syrup to the pollack (see label below), so I'll have to look for the dish from another outside Korean food company.

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