Inside Korean Grocery H Mart

H Mart offers an array of wares with an Asian influence

by Alex Dixon
photography by Smith Hardy

It would be reasonable to make a list before heading to the grocery store or to figure a route ahead of time to get in and out as quickly as possible. But if you’re heading to H Mart, that planning would likely be rendered useless. From live abalone to massage chairs, the store offers an enticing and ever-changing assortment of products rivaled by few retailers in the Triangle.
Part grocery store, part food court—with a dash of discount warehouse store thrown in—H Mart is an Asian-inspired supermarket based in New Jersey that has more than 60 locations nationwide. Its first location opened in 1982 in Woodside, New York, and its Cary location, which opened in 2016, remains its only North Carolina store. At the corner of High House and Davis Drive in the Cornerstone Village center, the market is located at the 46,000 square-foot site formerly housed by Lowes Foods.

Upon entering the Cary store, guests are greeted with a sprawling produce section featuring a variety of fruits and vegetables, many with Asian origins, from tropical dragon fruit to durian to massive Korean pears. The prepared foods lining the shelves include dozens of varieties of kimchi, a Korean dish of varying spiced and fermented vegetables; seaweed salad and sauces for marinating and topping dishes like bibimbap; an array of soy sauces in varying hues, strengths and packaging; and pastes that range from fermented black bean to the popular spicy gochujang. “We believe the excellence of our products encourages our fellow Koreans to have profound pride and dignity in the magnificent culture of our motherland, South Korea,” H Mart founder and CEO Il Yeon Kwon said in a statement. “As we expand, we like to think that we are reinventing the way people eat through a robust and unique food culture that promotes a rich and healthy lifestyle.”

In the food court, guests can choose from five restaurant options, whose menus include favorites like Panang curry at Thai Pantry, Japanese noodles at Don-Don and a take on sweet-and-tangy crispy Korean fried chicken at BBQ Chicken. The store also houses a location of the South Korean bakery franchise Tous le Jours. Other flavors can be found at stands throughout the store, where employees whip up taste-tests of food on sale and demo cooking implements from woks to flat-top grills. An entire aisle is devoted to home goods, where you can find everything from a soup spoon to a comforter to high-end rice cookers.
H Mart is short for “Han Ah Reum,” which loosely translates to a Korean phrase meaning “one arm full of groceries.” But given the breadth of the store, one cart full of groceries may just be a little more appropriate.