In Edison lies one of the greatest stores I have ever been to. It has an unassuming name for a place where you can find thousands of items relating to Asian cookery, in regards to both food and cooking tools. I could have spent the entire afternoon browsing around. My mouth was watering. The store is called H-Mart, and is the size of a Walmart. When you first walk in, you are met with a row of stores within the store itself, and then a small food court which is where Will and I ate yesterday. There was Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and more. Right behind that is the produce section, butcher, and fish market, all catered to Asian tastes. The whole store, in fact, is located in a shopping center which contains other Asian restaurants, including a Mongolian grill and Vietnamese-French bakery, which we also visited. Anyway, with so many choices, I told Will to order for me since he had been there before. He got me a soup that came served to me bubbling, and although I wasn’t crazy over it, I could appreciate how fresh and authentic it was.
When was the last time you were served a soup which was still boiling when it arrived? I had to wait about ten minutes to dig in. The sauce was red from all the chili flakes, but I did not find it spicy. Will’s was supposedly even spicier than mine, though I tried it and didn’t find it too bad. I am now starting to realize the high tolerance I have built up for spicy foods. The soup was a Korean Soodooboo (you can find different spellings for this depending on where you look) and contained a seafood stock filled with clams, baby shrimp, bits of beef, soft tofu, scallions, and cabbage. It came served with a heaping scoop of sticky white rice which was so thick it actually stuck to my chopsticks, and also a side of the ubiquitous kimchi which added another layer of complexity when mixed with the soup.
This was as authentic as you could get. Even the Chinese dishes at the food court were not something you would ordinarily see. There was no lo mein, pork fried rice, or egg rolls at this restaurant. As for how I feel about the soup, here’s something I never thought I would ever say about Asian food: it lacked salt. The broth itself was not too flavorful, and I wish there were more shrimp, but for $7.99 it was fine. I’m going to give this a 3.5 out of 5 stars for now. The ingredients were fresh, and the market itself was spotlessly clean and stacked to the brim with all kinds of ingredients. I would need to come back for another visit, next time trying a seafood pancake I saw on the menu or a noodle dish. I actually can’t wait to return.
This review was previously posted here. H-Mart is located at 1761 Route 27 in Edison, New Jersey.
UPDATE: February 6, 2017
I have since been to H-Mart two more times since this original review, both in the last week. It is because of these two visits that I am upgrading them to 4 out of 5 stars. They fixed the one problem I had the first time around, which was the seasoning/salt issue. I ordered ox tail rice noodle soup. The broth was beautiful, and the beef was sliced thin. I did not even have to gnaw any off the bone like I did at Shanghai Bun. On the side, they gave more of that sticky white rice and a bowl of kimchi. There was also another bowl on my tray different than last time. A small cup containing chili paste and a flaky, salt-like substance which could only have been MSG.
It was then that I realized they do not salt their broths, which accounted for my complaint the first time on what would have otherwise been a homerun dish. They give you the MSG on the side so you can season the soup to your liking. The chili paste also helps. The broth turns pink. It’s possibly they simply forgot to give me this addition last time. So after a few pinches here and there, the soup was fantastic. And no, I didn’t die. The oft-vilified MSG did nothing to me except act as the flavor enhancer it was intended to. I never understood the apathy or downright fear of this seasoning. With all the artificial sweeteners and inorganic garbage we eat and drink down by the barrel, it is a tiny bit of this naturally occurring product (from seaweed) which could spark its own horror movie.
Another visit just days later led me to order something other than soup. A Bo Ssam Platter caught my attention. Two rows of thinly sliced barbecued pork belly (served cold), with lettuce wraps, more kimchi, miso soup, rice, and two kinds of condiments to dip the pork in. This massive portion was only $12.95. It was excellent. There’s nothing else that really needs to be said. Just more justification of upgrading H-Mart to 4 stars. The three meals I ordered each came with a different kind of kimchi. The same could be said for those eating with me. This attention to detail is something which really drives home the fact that this humble food court is the real deal.