Always remembering Rene G's prior posts on Chicago Food Corp, I finally made my pilgrimage to Chicago Food Corp this weekend.
This is a large warehouse catering principally to the Korean community, though other Asians would find their basic needs met here. There is an appliance department featuring various tabletop appliances from rice cookers, George Forman grills, dishwashers and Ron Popeil Showtime rotisseries. Most intriguing was a dual compartment food storage device, which may be a chest freezer for a pricey $1000+. I tried to get some explanation beyond, Special storage for our food. If indeed it is related to a chest freezer, then theyll find a steal at Sears. However, there were so many control options (in Korean, of course) it could be an environmental chamber to replicate the conditions for fermenting kim-chi, which classically was buried in the yard and resurrected after a period of time.
The house wares department offers china, soup-noodle bowls, mattresses, multi liter teapots, kimchi fermentation pots, cooking pots & utensils, toys and knick-knacks to rival velvet Elvis.
If you are hungry, there is a tiny café serving soup-noodles, bi bim bap and other foods. On Sunday, we saw the after church crowd getting a quick meal in the middle of their shopping chores. The meal must be adequate because it was always busy with people at tables or perched on stools; the entire location maybe seated 24 people. All the meal options were transliterated from Korean into English, without any explanation in English. I didnt place an order on this occasion, so I dont know how helpful the staff will be when placing your order. I will probably bring my Korean picture cookbook with me. I borrowed this picture book for years from my local library as it helped decipher Korean menus. I recently bought it from the library from withdrawn book section for a dollar. Good timing on my side.
The food is not crammed together like we often see in Argyle or Chinatown. The vegetable section is large and clean with new vegetables to discover. Instead of a salad bar, they had trays of panchan (Korean side dishes) to taste and select from. At the recommendation of one customer, I tried the candied lotus root. It reminded me of candied watermelon rind I made years ago. Due to the candied process it was more texture than taste, not something I would invest in, which was the beauty of this taste and/or buy section. Marinated crabs, which I presume were raw, were also in this area ready for home grilling. Labeling wasnt always consistent, I learned at check out what I thought was a pickled vegetable was pickled squid and a darn good pickled squid I might add!
They have a staffed fish and meat counter, where they had live lobsters in tanks, meat already marinated for bulgogi, fish sliced for sushi and sashimi but best of all somebody to ask questions of. The first day I did buy the already prepared bulgogi, which was fine in snap but the meat was a bit tattered from handling. The next day I bought the sliced raw meat and with the help of the butcher we found the correct marinade and the chili-soy paste to spread on your lettuce leaves. At least for the marinade, until I am more familiar with jars, I will have to come back with my empty. The butcher picked it out from a shelf filled with seemingly many of the same jars. Yes, I know it is simple to make the marinade but I dont do it enough to get the taste right everytime. Though I did chop garlic and green onions into the marinade, which rested for an hour in the refrigerator.
Kimchi selection varied from 1 qt to several gallon containers and lots of variety to choose from. The kimchi case alone rivaled a Jewel dairy case in size. At my friends recommendation, I took home a quart jar, which was mixed cabbage and radish. She often buys the gallon-plus jars her kids also eat chili garlic sauce on bread without blinking or weeping. I cant keep up with their tolerance for heat.
The frozen foods section had a variety of frozen dumplings, frozen fish roe, frozen dumpling/eggroll wrappers, frozen fish, frozen squid, frozen octopus, frozen clams, frozen oysters, frozen squirts (Ill buy some once I figure out how to prepare), ect. The New Zealand mussels were available in two forms: boxed and wrapped in plastic on a plastic tray. Initially, we thought the trayed mussels were repackaged from the boxed until we analyzed we paid more for those we could see.
In the dry goods area, there was rice, an isle of noodles, candies and other staples. One product that interested me was the sea salt. In Jewel, you buy salt where you choices are limited to kosher, sea, canning, Mortons or a house brand all taking tiny shelf space. This shop had at least one long shelf with bags of salt weighing from ounces to several pounds.
My friend has business interests nearby passing this area (Peterson and Pulaski) often and was completely unaware of this store with the generic name Chicago Food Corp. We were marveling about this when another patron advised having the same revelation. On this same tour, we visited Argyle where our fresh memories allowed us to do some price comparisons. Generally, we felt the prices were lower at Chicago Food Corp.
Chicago area is really quite a special place. You can go to Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights and feel like you just stopped over in Japan. Chicago Food Corp offers a similar experience for the intrepid Grubmeister (todays new vocabulary word) visiting a little bit of Korea for an afternoon. Of course, we experienced a bit of New York in the parking lot when another patron blared their horn accusing me (me!) of tapping their car when I exited my car.
Go forth and enjoy!
Chicago Food Corporation
5800 North Pulaski Road
Chicago, IL 60646
Chicago Food Corporation
5511 North Kedzie Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625