A Newbie’s Guide to Navigating L.A.’s Korean Markets

Don’t skip the condiment section!
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Walking into a Korean grocery store could feel like a trip to Seoul. There are so many strange sights, smells, and flavors. No need to fret. Here’s a brief tour of the Galleria Market inside the shopping mall on the corner of Olympic and Western. Why is there no aisle number four? Because in Korean culture, the number four is the number of death. You might also notice that there is no aisle number 13. Who wants bad luck when they’re grocery shopping?

The produce section is like most markets, full of seasonal items and usual staples. Plump mu (daikon) and baechu (napa cabbage) are stacked high in the fall. Summers bring diminutive, yellow striped chamae (melons), deep purple concord grapes (podo) and green Korean peppers. Spring brings a variety of leafy greens like geundae (Korean chard) and garlic shoots. Grab a bundle or two of ggaetnip (perilla leaves). They have an almost nutty, minty flavor that makes for a nice addition to salads or a green wrap for your rice. Those bundles of thin grass are buchu, Korean leeks with a mild flavor, and they are perfect for flatcakes. Green onions (pa) are reliably cheap, and there should always be giant bags of bean sprouts (kong namul) and peeled garlic.

Fresh meats and seafood can be found in the back of the store. Korean butchers cut the cow, pig, and chicken into different parts than American butchers, since pretty much every edible part of the animals will be sold. Don’t be afraid to ask what the cuts are like.

The middle aisles will have housewares, American cereals, detergent, and other items. The most interesting section houses the condiments (What? You don’t want five pounds of chile flakes?). Bottles of sesame oil are best bought here. They have a short shelf life, but you’ll know you’re getting a good rotation from a Korean store. If you can see through the bottle, it’s not dark enough. Dried noodles, a variety of dried namul (vegetables and ferns) and beverages will round out the aisles.

The last section is usually reserved for pre-made banchan and kimchi. Sometimes the market will let you taste some if you’re curious and if ask nicely. The prepared banchan will probably taste salty—they’re designed to be eaten with rice. If you’re feeling lazy, pick up a pre-packaged bibimbap (a mixed rice bowl) or hwaedupbap (a sushi rice bowl) in the refrigerated cases.

Last but not least, let your checker know if you want that 25-pound bag of rice that’s on sale. This is also a good time to ask for boxes of ramen or a giant case of napa cabbage for your kimchi-making needs. You may be tempted by the pretty looking cakes in the bakery case on the way out, but in my opinion, Korean pastries never taste as good as they look. Your better bet is to get some cute kitten socks on the way to the elevator. Now, all you have left is a harrowing drive out of the parking lot.

Galleria Market is at 3250 W. Olympic Blvd., 323-733-3800.

 Two Other Markets to Shop:

The Plaza Market
(On the basement level of the Koreatown Plaza)
928 S. Western Ave., 213-385-1100

Zion Market
(Inside the City Center on 6th; don’t miss the casual food court inside the market, the only place in town where you can get hoddeok–those sweet cinnamon and sugar-filled pan-fried dough treats)
3500 W. 6th St., 213-351-9900

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