Monday, June 09, 2008

Super H Mart

I have been spending a lot of spare time at the Super H Mart -- the new supermarket and food court at the corner of Blalock and Westview. It is a fantastic grocery store, with an interesting Korean food court.

Best ethnic grocery store in Houston?

Super H Mart is a Korean chain with a number of locations in the U.S. Here, Super H opened in the former location of a Randalls. If you walk inside and don't look too closely, you might think that you are in a state-of-the-art Whole Foods. Super H Mart has that same bright, cheery, contemporary feel. But instead of a cheese counter, Super H has a whole wall devoted to kimchi.

Super H is not as big as Hong Kong Market. It does not have the same quantity of imported dry goods. Instead, Super H excels with its selection of its produce and seafood.
The produce section includes fruits and vegetables that are rarely seen in Houston -- even at Hong Kong market. The quality of the produce looks as good as Central Market or Whole Foods.

The seafood section may have the broadest, and most interesting, selection of seafood in Houston. You can select some fish, such as these, using tongs.
Mostly Korean Food Court
Super H Mart is also significant because it brings Houston its second Korean food court. A few years ago, I discovered the Korean food court at nearby Ko-Mart. Ko-Mart has a number of mom-and-pop food stands that sell cheap, authentic Korean food.
Super H's food court is something different. These stands feel much more like a food court in an American mall -- contemporary, accessible, and corporate owned. But the food is just as interesting. The stands include a French bakery and a sushi/soba shop, which I have not tried. The stands I did try include the following:
1 - Sobahn Express. Korean fast food, including bibimbap rice dishes, soups, and bulgogi (Korean barbecued beef).
I tried the bulgogi bibimbap -- a rice bowl with different piles of vegetables such as carrots and cucumber kimchi, plus a small serving of bulgogi. I liked the quality of the vegetables more than Super H. But the bulgogi was not nearly as flavorful.
I also tried soybean paste stew. This was a fascinating stew with peppers, onions, oysters, and some other unusual small pink seafood. Although the flavor was strange at first, I discovered halfway through the bowl that it tastes a lot like New Orleans gumbo.
2 - China Factory. This Chinese fast food stand has a short menu, but some interesting dishes. I liked the noodles with black soy bean sauce -- a thick, viscous, comforting sauce that does not have a strong flavor.
3 - Toreore is perhaps the most unusual stand. It is part of a Korean fried chicken chain. But this is unlike any chicken I have ever had. Toreore advertises that it is healthy because it uses no trans fats and a batter that is made from "mixed grains powder." I tried a hot, sweet and spicy chicken nugget that was very sweet and so spicy hot that it caused sores to break out inside my mouth. The smell was something like the inside of a Duncan donut store, but the flavor resembled a sweetened habenero pepper. The vendors at the counter warn non-Korean speakers about how hot this particular dish is. It is a warning well heeded.
You can find more Super H photos and comments on the food court in this detailed post by Neverfull over at eGullet.
Super H Mart is drawing a huge Asian-American crowd. But it is going to draw a lot of other people who are less familiar with Asian foods. I found out about Super H Mart last month from my mother-in-law -- a Texas-born lady who never tried sushi until recently. She thinks Super H is pretty cool.
She's right.


Anonymous said...

'it caused sores to break out inside my mouth'

did you eat all of it anyway? it's like crack chicken.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you wrote about Super-H! We're lucky to have it -- and other stores like it -- here in Houston. :)

neverfull said...

hey anonymous, thanks for the link to my blog.

Unknown said...

oh i made my way to HMart 2 weekends ago, i'd have to say although the store is spectacular, i still prefer the food court at Komart.

Anonymous said...

Unless I have gone to the wrong place, Komart (just north of I-10 on Gessner) is truly bad. I tried the Bulgogi, one of the giant soups, and some sweet/sour/microwaved chicken wings. The Bulgogi was a rather dreary looking gray and one of the more boring Asian dishes I've ever tried. The soup didn't have the infused flavor of good soups, but the I put everything in a bowl for 10 seconds and served it to you feel. And the chicken wings were on a styrofoam plate covered in plastic wrap and stuck in the microwave until the styrofoam melted onto them, somehow without heating up the chicken. Am I missing something?

This place sounds good, but please tell me if we're talking about the same place?

Anonymous said...

Komart and H mart are two different places.

I will tell you, however, to watch out for the quality of your fish, I was in the process of buying a couple black bass and had to stop the lady because both of them which she pulled from the middle of the case looked a little off, I asked to smell them and both of them were going sour. I pointed at the ones I wanted and we were on our merry way.

btw, it was 5.99 per pound, four dollars cheaper than central market.

They had little red mullet there too, gotta get me some of that next time.

anonymouseater said...

Ko-Mart (not H-Mart) is on Gessener north of I-10. It has vendors of differing quality. I have had some good, very cheap meals there. I have also had one or two sub-par dishes. It is not the best Korean food in Houston -- but it has some of the best Korean food bargains.

The bulgogi I tried from a Ko-Mart vendor was spicy, complex, and significantly better than the Bulgogi at Sobahn in the Super-H.

Overall, though, the quality of the food in the stalls at Super-H seems to be a bit more consistent than Ko-Mart.

Anonymous said...

I live in the neighborhood and I'm thrilled w/this new store. The prices are fair too. It's all GOOD!

KARE said...

H-Mart has all the glitz and modern-sleekness, but I think it lacks somewhat in substance. The food-court is not a good reflection of H-Mart itself since those are spaces leased out to Korean-chain-restaurants (which itself is unfortunate) at a HIGH premium. But I tried H-Mart's kimchee, and it just wasn't good! I also tried their pre-marinated bulgogi, and that was way too sweet even for my "American" husband. Their pre-marinated pork was a little bit better, but still lacking something... I've heard the kalbi is better, but I just wasn't willing to invest any more money in finding out!

As for the foodcourt: The food court at H-Mart are restaurant-chains. The food here cost more than at Komart, probably because they have such huge overheads to pay to H-Mart. And as for flavor and quality, Komart definitely has it beat in every way: price, flavor, and portion sizes!

And there is also the nagging little rumor about H-Mart, which I heard from my mom...
It's supposedly owned by the family of General (and former president) Chun Doo-hwan who is infamous for assassinating president Park Chung-Hee and running a dictatorship for a while in Korea. He's responsible for terrible murders of Korean student demonstrators in Gwangju (you can read poetry by Kim Ji Haa) and the brutality he is known for. Also known for embezzling lots of money during his rule... He was sentenced to death for all his crimes, but then was later pardoned, and then apparently, his family found refuge here in the states!

But all that aside, the kimchee did not pass my test.

KARE said...

As follow-up to my previous comment, it is also important to note that the relatively recent introduction of chain-Korean-grocery-stores have been detrimental to the local mom & pop Korean grocery stores in the Houston area. Slowly, they are going out of business one by one. Some of these stores had been around for 15-20 years, way before KoMart (a Dallas-based chain) or H-Mart (a national chain) invaded Houston. The loss affects the Houston Korean community, for these are the folks we've known for years, perhaps went to the same church with, or grew up with one of their kids. The Walmart phenomenon apparently has no cultural boundaries!

Anonymous said...

I've been told that they carry squid ink. Is that true? I've been looking for it. Thanks!

by Persis said...

Glad to find a fellow fan. I love Super H-Mart!

They have a wide variety of meat cuts and I love the fact that I can buy my striped bass live (best was to ensure it's fresh!). The wild-caught scallops are half the price of Central Market!

And yes, the produce is really the best and cheapest. The scallions 1/3 the price of Kroger, the roma tomatoes are actually cheaper than Canino's on Airline.

The only laments I have are two: please up the quality of your fruit (but thank you for the tropical fruits that I love), and your selection of South East Asian groceries!

Saying that, I love Central Market too. And Pete's Fine Meats (cheapest organic eggs in town - my family goes through 4 dozen each week). Sun's Club (Beechnut/Beltway 8) is our very own "Asian Costco", but it's a bit far for me, so H-Mart fills in the gap great.

anonymouseater said...

Anon - I don't know whether they have squid ink. It wouldn't surprise me if they did. said...

I saw so much worthwhile material here!

John said...

I was impressed with my whole experience at HMart. Very clean, its not smelly like other asian mArket and the food they served at their food court was awesome. Its like your not here in houston its like your somewhere else like Korea. I Am a resto owner myself but I was really impressed!!!!