When owner Ung Kim came to Columbia back in 1976, he could count the number of Korean families in the city on one hand. Over time, though, the community grew and his family saw that there was a need for access to Korean food. Now open for more than 25 years, the Hyundai Oriental Market (1807 Decker Blvd.) has become a Northeast staple — not just for Korean clientele, but the greater community that has come to embrace the cuisine.
Regarding Korean food, it’s easy to jump straight to things like a warm bowl of bibimbap, a pot of spicy kimchi stew or a comforting plate of bulgogi over rice. But there are actually several intensely snackable items that are part of the cuisine. Free Times dropped into Hyundai to explore and review some of the very best snacks the store has to offer.
The Korean version of sushi, gimbap is the feel-good snack for those looking for something lighter and more organic. Similar to its Japanese sibling, gimbap is made with cooked short-grain rice pressed onto dried sheets of nori seaweed and stuffed, typically with vegetables like carrots and pickled radishes.
The biggest difference between sushi and gimbap is that while rice vinegar is used to season sushi, gimbap has a more savory, nutty flavor thanks to the use of sesame oil. Without being fried or processed, gimbap offers the most perfect combination of freshness, savoriness and snap that everyone looks for in a good snack. At $6 for a pack of two massive rolls, they are an absolute bargain.
Most people know and perhaps even love the sour, punchy, fermented flavors of cabbage kimchi, the food that’s become the iconic symbol of Korean cuisine. But kimchi does not just apply to cabbage. Rather, it includes a broad spectrum of ingredients fermented in a mixture of gochugaru (a Korean chili powder), onions, garlic, ginger and often salty seafood (like oysters) over a period of time.
While cabbage is often the go-to, cucumbers offer a whole new perspective on kimchi. The natural sweetness and infinitely more satisfying crunch makes the cucumber iteration not only good as a side to meals, but enticing at any point of the day for a quick bite out of the fridge.
Sweet Red Bean and Cream Cake
Introduced in the later part of the 20th century, Western-style baking is still relatively new to Korea and Japan, but nonetheless an industry that has exploded in popularity. Unlike more of their savory dishes, desserts offer the biggest example of Western influence in East Asia today. It’s not uncommon to see very familiar breads like croissants paired with local flavors like green tea or red bean.
We don’t think of beans as a sweet item in the U.S., but red bean paste is one of the most popular flavors in Korea in terms of desserts. Hyundai features a few examples of this, best of all being their red bean and cream cake which features an incredibly soft, pillowy bun filled with a combination of the subtle red bean paste along with a sweet cream filling. Gently warmed, there’s nothing better than one of these next to a warm fire with a cup of tea.
Honey Butter Chips
Around the mid-2010s, Korea went through a literal craze with the release of honey butter potato chips by Calbee, a Korean snack food maker most famous for its shrimp chips. First started through word-of-mouth like this year’s Popeye’s chicken sandwich revolution, the honey butter hype went through the roof when K-pop stars started giving their own praise to the chips. They became so desired that Calbee ran out of chips in stores and had to devote all of its production to the honey butter flavor for a period of time to keep up with demand.
It’s easy to see why they were so popular. The combination of salty, sweet, crispy and savory isn’t unlike the flavors Southerners have come to love in items like sweet potato fries and syrup-covered chicken and waffles.
Occasionally, if the stars align, when you checkout at Hyundai you’ll be fortunate enough to be offered a yakult, the OG probiotic drink from before things like kombucha were cool. Basically a milk that’s fermented and sweetened, the yogurt drink is light, smooth and slightly fizzy with a sharp, but pleasant tart aftertaste. If you aren’t lucky enough to get one on the way out, Hyundai also sells these in packs in the vegetable aisle.
Samyang Hot Ramen
As much a threat as it is a recommendation, these devastatingly spicy instant ramen packs became a YouTube sensation a couple of years ago as vloggers put their lives on the line to eat not just one pack, but as many packs as humanly possible. Though the hot chicken ramen flavor is admittedly not recommended as a daily go-to, Samyang also produces a more mild curry version along with a cheesy, spicy blend. With a little less than the full seasoning packet poured into the bowl, the spice in the hot version is plenty tolerable and actually incredibly flavorful, and the ramen itself is springy and pleasant.
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