Needed some Korean food for a small dinner party I was throwing on Saturday and I went to Han Ah Reum on Mass Ave. They had everything I needed (marinated bulgogi - I don't eat meat but my guests do, so I needed someone else to prepare it for me!, gochujang, miso paste, and organic brown rice for guests to make ssam (lettuce-wrapped bulgogi and rice with a dollop of miso-y chili paste)). Grandmother was in the back of the store, on the floor making banchan. I wasn't surprised to see this at all...I remember my own grandma sitting on our kitchen floor, making kimchee with my mom. The owner couple was standing at the register relaxing and enjoying some sikhye (Korean sweet rice drink) and kimbop (Korean-style "sushi" roll) with another couple. When I went to check out, they offered me some of both and threw in a chap chae (cold noodle dish with veggies and beef) on the house, which my guests loved. These folks work really hard and I never see them chill out like that - I left the shop with a big smile on my face. The rumor of the new H Mart in Central Sq frightens me. I've been to H Mart a couple of times and each time, my head spins and not in a good way (kinda like how I feel when I get dragged to a Shaw's). The mom-and-pop shop might cost more than H Mart, but to me, the kind of experience I had on Saturday is well worth the few dollars more. Please continue patronizing whichever indie Korean/Asian market that you do. It is vital for their livelihood if they're going to survive H Mart's city presence.
Han Ah Reum, 2376 Mass Ave, Cambridge
Lotte Market, 297 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge
Reliable Market, 45 Union Square, Somerville
Mirim, 152 Harvard Avenue, Allston