I love checking out local supermarkets whenever I travel to other countries. Why? Because, I believe, a supermarket is the best place to meet locals and learn their lifestyle. Sometimes, I find items which are so foreign that I can’t guess what they are. I spend some time studying that item trying to figure out what it could be and ask locals or staff about that thing. It is a fun way to discover local culture and interact with locals. If you are also a fan of exploring local culture at supermarkets, I would love to share some tips about supermarkets in Korea.
First of all, you will have to know where to go. Lotte Mart, E-Mart and Homeplus are the major supermarket chains in South Korea. Supermarkets in Korea are no different from other stores across the globe. But, they have some unique features.
- Free Food Samples
Who wouldn’t like free food? You can try various kinds of dishes for FREE in one place. The salesperson who is usually a friendly lady wearing an apron would be happy to help you try their food samples and you don’t need to feel pressure to buy the food after you try it. It is okay to buy it only when you really enjoy the food and want to have it again next time.
Korean supermarkets cover all kinds of alcohol. Beer, Soju, Makgeolli, wine, whisky, vodka, you name it. We don’t have specialized liquor stores. You can buy alcohol in convenience stores, supermarkets, gas stations, etc. Of course, you will have to carry your ID to prove that you are over 19 years old.
- No Free Plastic Bags
It is not allowed to provide free plastic bags not only in supermarkets but also in other retail outlets. Many Koreans bring their own bags for our environment. The bag costs only 20 won (0.02 USD) so it is not really about saving money but about protecting environment from plastic waste. 🙂
So, what to buy at the Korean grocery store? Here is the list of items I recommend. I hope you give it a try!
Do you know what is most sold spirit in the world? The winner may come as a surprise to most people outside Korea. About 71 million cases of Jinro soju were sold in 2014 only. Emperador brandy was second on the list, at 33 million cases. This distilled rice liquor tastes like light vodka but way cheaper than vodka. Soju usually contains 20% alcohol and costs less than 1,500 won at supermarkets. If you like beer and want to try soju with beer, then make somac, a mixture of beer and soju. The most preferred ratio is 30% soju to 70% beer. 😉
Makgeolli is a fermented rice wine native to Korea. You should shake Makgeolli before drinking it because it is unfiltered.
- Instant Cooked Rice
Rice is at the center of almost every meal in Korea. If you plan to make Korean food at home after returning from Korea, bringing some instant cooked rice might be a good idea. All you need to do is to put the rice in the microwave for 2 minutes and then you will have Korean style rice.
- Three-in-one Coffee
Three-in-one coffee or instant coffee is called “coffee mix” in Korea. Instant coffee is still very popular in Korea especially at home and office. “Coffee mix” is usually very sweet but there is also black coffee. Maxim Mocha/White gold, French Café and Kanu are major brands.
- Green Tea Bags and Green Tea Powder
Nokcha, green tea, is the most consumed tea in Korea. Green tea has relaxing effects and it is enjoyable served hot or cold. Put a teabag in a cup and then pour water over it. Or you can add green tea powder to water, smoothie, ice cream, bread or anything.
- Oreo O’s
Are you a fan of Oreo? Do you eat cereals for breakfast? Then you should buy Oreo O’s in Korea. It is a cereal consists of many small pieces of Oreo. Its production was ceased in 2007 everywhere outside South Korea. So, it was availably only in Korea until 2017 when it was released worldwide again. I am not so sure which country now has Oreo O’s. If you have never tried it or have never seen it in your home country, why don’t you try it in Korea?
- Instant Ramen
Korean instant noodles are generally quite hot but very tasty. If you enjoy spicy food and dare to try, I would recommend Shin Ramyun (spicy), Samyang Ramyun (oldest ramyun brand), Jjapaghetti (non-soup noodle) and Buldalk Bokkeummyeon (warning! sweet and extremely spicy).
I hope these tips can help you enjoy local supermarkets in Korea and please do let me know if I missed any!