So it’s no secret that I like Asian cuisine right? I mean, I grew up in Vancouver for Buddha’s sake, where Asian food isn’t just a ‘take-out’ idea on a lazy Friday night but a way of life. I spent years of my youth wandering around Chinatown, perusing the local markets, boutique and shops, and meditating in the Sun Yat-Sen classical Chinese Garden. T & T Market was one of my favorite places to shop, and grabbing some sushi or tempura in one of Vancouver’s - or the lower mainland in general - abundant Japanese restaurants was usually a thrice weekly occurrence. I loved the Richmond Night Market, hung out in Bubble Tea shops and ventured into offbeat Japanese bookstores. Thanks to my best friend from childhood I also have a nice collection of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese pop music in my music library.
|Black Fungus, Jackfruit, Sugar Cane, Black Tapioca Pearls|
These are all things I miss from home. When it comes to Asian Cuisine and Asian culture Chicago just doesn’t compare. However I just discovered the coolest place, and it goes a long way in making me feel a little less homesick, and a little less like a fish out of water. If you don’t know what I’m talking about I’m talking about The Super H Mart in Niles!
Okay, seriously, how have I never heard of this place before? It’s not terribly far from where I live - roughly 40 minutes - and it is so worth the traffic to get there! So Super H Mart is a predominantly Korean Grocery, though they also sell Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Taiwanese staples. They have everything from fresh produce - a lot of awesome Asian produce like fresh lychee, longan, lotus root, jackfruit, all kinds of radishes, choy’s and other Asian greens. - to Fresh noodles, to dried noodles, to spices, seasonings, fermented pastes, buckets of soy sauce, gallon jars of kimchi, multiple types of tofu, rice, beans, canned goods, snacks, desserts, and unfortunately meats, but I ignored that section.
|Fresh Udon. Dried Sweet Potato Noodles and Purple |
So how did I find this magical paradise in the suburbs? Well Monday evening I picked up a copy of the August issue of VegNews magazine and was instantly captivated by two recipes.one for Japchae which is a Korean Noodle dish, and one for Ddukbokki which is a dish of cabbage, onion and rice cakes. Now as much as I love Asian cuisine I don’t have a lot of experience with Korean food. When I was growing up in Vancouver the dominant Asian cultures were Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwanise, with much smaller pockets of cultural influence from Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and other South East Asian countries. So my experience with Korean food is limited to eating in a few restaurants in my pre-vegan days, and some Korean-Fusion style food I’ve eaten since going vegan. Yet something about these two dishes just called to me and I knew I had to make them, but where was I going to find Dangmyeon - translucent noodles made of sweet potato - Garaeddeok - the rice cakes - Gochugaru - coarse ground Korean chili flakes, and Gochujang - A spicy fermented soybean and chili paste. The flakes and the paste I figured I could do without if need be but the noodles and the rice cakes were a must. So I Googled it, and Super H Mart is what I found. How many ways can I express my joy and excitement over this discovery?
I was particularly taken with the produce department and I like that they sold some organic produce which I was not expecting. I could have spent an hour in just this department but the thing I was most excited for was finally finding my beloved Dragonfruit. Dragonfruit is something I was introduced to last year when I went home to visit my family. I loved it so much that I was determined to find it when I got back to Chicago but there were no dragonfruits to be found in my area. Occasionally the Whole Foods has them in stock but they go for $7 a fruit, and they’re usually small and questionable looking. - By which I mean they always seem to look as though they’ve seen better days. Well, Super H Mart is selling Dragonfruit for half the price of WF and so my husband and I got some. I also picked up some Chinese broccoli to make soup, and some lotus root because I have many recipes for it but have never seen it for sale anywhere in my area. I wanted to buy so many more things but my fridge was fully stocked already and so there was no sense in buying produce just for buying’s sake. Next I checked out the tofu options, of which there were many. Super H Mart also makes their own fresh tofu but they only had soft tofu in stock and I didn’t need any of that so I took a pass and bought some packaged non-GMO baked tofu, as well as some fresh bean curd. Did you get that? FRESH BEAN CURD! How cool is that? Bean Curd is also something I got turned onto when I was in Vancouver last year as several Asian Vegan restaurants I tried used it in place of tofu or meat. Really loved the texture though I guess it’s not a common item here in Chicagoland.
|Black Sesame Seeds, Korean Chili Flakes, Bean Curd|
Baked Five Spice Tofu. Mochi, and Brown Rice cakes
My next favorite place in the store was the fresh noodle isle. There were literally shelves upon shelves, and bunkers upon bunkers of fresh packages noodles. From Udon, to Ramen, to buckwheat, to shiitake, to a whole host of other noodles that I couldn’t pronounce or determine what they might be. Interestingly enough as much as I love a good pasta dish I’m not a freak when it comes to spaghetti or penne or any of the other Italian pastas, but put me in a room with a wall of Udon and watch out! I couldn’t resist.
|Red Bean Filled, Sesame Covered Mochi!!!|
Also mixed in with the noodles were bags of picked vegetables and one of my all time favorite snacks - Mochi! I don’t mean the hard mochi you get in the healthfood store that comes in a brick that you need to cut and coook. I’m talking about fresh, chewy, stretchy, cold mochi balls filled with sweet red bean paste. Red bean paste is literally my favorite thing in Asian cuisine ever, honestly you put red bean paste in something and I’m head over heals. Though mochi is something I could take or leave when you fill it with red bean paste I go nuts for it. I bought several flavors of this little treat, including pineapple, plain, guava, green tea, and my personal favorite brown and black sesame. It was also in this section that I found the rice cakes or Garaeddeok that I was looking for. They had them sliced into rounds, or in cylinders and they came in brown rice or white rice. I chose the brown rice rounds.
Next it was off to the dried noodle isle where there were just as many bags and packages of noodles as there were fresh ones in the refrigerated section. Since I can’t read Korean it took me some time in locating the Dangmyeon but I eventually did. I grabbed two bags of the stuff, one of thin noodles and one of really wide noodles. Then I also grabbed a package of thin noodles made from purple sweet potatoes because, well... how awesome is that? They also had an entire isle of seaweed and some of the packages were almost as tall as I was. My husband came over with a package of Nori that was literally wider then both of us put together. I don’t even know where I’d start with using a sheet of nori that big or why it’s necessary but it was awesome.
Then I headed off to the seasoning isle where I found the fermented soybean chili paste, the Korean chili flakes, and Zhenjiang which is a Chinese black vinegar that I’ve been looking for and couldn’t find. I also grabbed a jar of black sesame seeds since I ran out last month.
|Better shot of the Rice Cakes|
Next it was time to scout the rice and bean section and oh my, if I had more room in my pantry and more money in my wallet I would have gone nuts. My husband and I love rice, and four pound bags of black rice for a fraction of the price Whole Foods sells it for was hard to pass up. They also had a variety of glutenous rice, white rice, brown rice, red rice, and wild rices that were intriguing, as well as dried black soybeans - only seen canned before. Though I enjoyed looking in this section I didn’t buy anything. I did however pick up two bags of dried Black Fungus or Chinese Black Mushrooms as they’re also known, as well as a bag of Tapioca pearls to make Bubble tea. After that it was time to go but not before stumbling upon something I’ve been looking for, for a long time. Canned Jackfruit. Jackfruit is the ‘new’ meat alternative for a lot of vegetarians and vegans. It’s popularity is growing ever more because of it’s meat-like texture and lack of flavor making it very adaptable to any recipe. Unfortunately for me all the markets near my house only carry jackfruit in syrup not in water or brine and so they don’t do me any good. For all of the jackfruit recipes I see water or brine packed jackfruit is called for and now I’ve finally found it. They only had 4 cans left on the shelf and I took them all. My husband also couldn’t pass up a can of sugar cane, which is something he really likes.
Then it was time to check out, and all that only came to $56! Wow, what a steal. I know I’ll be making regular excursions to Super H Mart now that I know about it, and if you love Asian food as much as I do I highly recommend you take a trip out there. Trust me when I saw it’s SO worth it. Oh and incase you’re interested they also have a bakery, a food court, a massage place, and electronics area, appliances, makeup and some other cultural items.
I can't wait to get cooking! Check it out guys, seriously!
Super H Mart
801 Civic Center Dr Niles, IL
Phone # 847-581-1212