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Hanaro Mart

하나로 마트 Hanaro Mart

Perched on the far western edge of Mugeodong (무거동), just before the bridge to Guyeongli(구영리) stands Ulsan’s latest addition to the big box retail set. Hanaro Mart is one of the NongHyup Jaebol‘s (jaebol being the government sponsored megacorporations like Hyundai and Samsung) incarnations. This large two-story retail outlet opened in mid May to snarling traffic jams and mobs of shoppers crowding over the opening day sales.  I waited for the crowds to settle out before I made my virgin entrance to the giant store.

I took the opportunity of a lazy Wednesday afternoon off work to peruse the store and detail what fine foreign friendly foods might exist therein. Frankly, with the hundreds of foreigners living in Mugeodong these days, I thought NongHyup might have done it’s demographics homework and made additional room for foreign cuisine. But then, living in Korea for nearly five years, I should have known better. Koreans will do what they will and demographics (and profits) be damned.  Instead I found a shining example of retail by Koreans, of Koreans and for Koreans. There was not a single section of any aisle dedicated to the tastes of persons such as myself. This was a monument to Korean shopping; a supermarket that any Korean would be proud to shop at.  All Korean, All the Time. I immediately thought of the old Helen Reddy song, “I am Woman Hear Me Roar,” and wanted to change it to “I am Korean,” but Koreans don’t roar, they hark up spit and that just ruined it for me. I dropped that song from my head and push my cart around the aisles, being sure bump my quota of ajummas, who I am sure had their own quota of bumping to do.

I checked on the sauce aisle – a likely place to find western foods. No barbeque sauce, no A-1, no mustard, no salsa. Although there was spaghetti sauce, one would have to be able to read Hanguel to find it. It was labelled 토마토서스. The ketchup was the same.  In fact, not a single bottle of anything was in English. That was a bad omen I should have paid attention to.

The snack aisle was next, and I had hoped to find corn chips – but alas, only squid chips and  snacks only Koreans would be familiar with were to be had. Pringles, the one western snack in existence, were there in abundance. However, even the meanest and lowest of convenience stores usually stock a selection of those. Nothing in the snack aisle would make me come back.

Next was the cereal aisle. No luck there either – just the usual assortment of Corn Blight flakes and Coco Balls. No granola, no  high fiber, low fat selections. Nothing here would make me stop in for a box, either.

The crowning glory of any supermarket for a foreigner is almost always the dairy section. Do they have cheese? What kind? How much? After searching the entire refrigerated sections, I was directed to the wine corner. “The wine corner?”, I whined. Hanaro Mart does indeed have a decent selection of wines from around the world, all of them priced well above what could be found elsewhere. Yellow Tail Merlot, a relatively cheap wine, was 25% higher in Hanaro Mart than in the neighborhood market I regularly shop in. Other wines were such as spendy. The saleswoman who stalked me as I fondled the bottles was quite pleased to show me the impressive cheese section on the end of the wine display.

The Cheesy Cheese Section

Oh, there were a few types of cheese one doesn’t usually see at a Lotte Mart or Homeplus, but the usual suspects were there in spades.  These are cheeses one cuts into tiny bits and puts on little trays with colored toothpicks already stuck in them to ease the portage from tray to mouth.  That ain’t cheese, my friends, those are delicacies. I wanted cheese. Cheese I can cut thick hunks of and lay between slices of rye bread (another item missing from Hanaro Mart) or cheese I can grate into a salad (for which all of the dressings available were honey mustard, sweet kiwi and some Korean-style 1000 Island copy) or melt onto a stalk of broccoli (which also was sadly missing from the veggies section.)  I smiled faintly at the woman, who looked at me hopefully as if they’d planned this smart little cheese selection just for me. “감사함니다,”  I said and pushed my cart upstairs.

If you’ve been to Homeplus or Lotte Mart, and gone beyond the groceries you’ve been to Hanaro Mart as well.  Clothes, housewares, electronics and toys – all of the same brands as elsewhere – populate the remainder of big box retail, just like red neon crosses must top a Christian church. No exceptions.  Here, however, I found something worth coming back for. Pet supplies!  Scads of them.  More doggie, kittie and hamster snacks than there was cheese, western sauces and cereals combined.  And they were cheap! Even cheaper than Costco! Having two dogs of my own, I know that treats are the Zen Master’s secret to a well behaved doggie. I stocked up on several bags of goodies – there was little else to bring me back to the Korean Mecca of Grocery Shopping.  I wondered, though, as I walked back toward the cash registers, what the many Koreans who stared at me thought of my cart full of snacks. Do they wonder if I’m eating all these doggie snacks? Do all foreigners eat chicken jerky by the gross?  That’s a mystery they’ll have to solve on their own. They won’t get many chances to see that again.

So, in conclusion, if you are a foreigner reading this, save your money and go to Homeplus, Lotte Mart, Foreigner Town or Costco if you’re looking for tastes of home.  If, however, you’re a Korean reading this – baby, you’ve found home!  I am Korean, Hear Me Hark and Spit!

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