I’ve been shopping at Zion Market in Kearny Mesa on and off for years. The on and off factor was the horrible parking, which was clearly an issue for the retailer, especially on weekends when lines would snake down Mercury St. as customers tried to find a space.
Well, Zion has moved and now H-Mart, the newish mega-Korean supermarket in Mira Mesa has true competition. The new location in the old K-Mart on Clairemont Mesa Blvd. is simply ginormous. The space is not just the market—easily four times as large as the old one—but also a food court and number of other retailers, including the fabulous bakery Paris Baguette, in what is an indoor mini mall. And the parking? It’s a wide expanse of spaces but when I went over the day before the 4th of July, it was still bumper to bumper with cars trying to find a place close to the store.
Once inside, the aisles feel like they’re a mile wide and they’re filled with all sorts of interesting items. One aisle, not surprisingly, is mostly dedicated to kimchees—from radish and cabbage to green onion, and that’s just the commercial brands. In the back of the store is a large fish section equaled by a meat section filled with marinated meats like pork collar butt, beef rib eye, pork spare ribs, and beef spare ribs, plus thin sliced meats for bulgogi. In between? The prepared foods. That’s where I picked up a package of house-made cabbage kimchee and eyed products like seasoned small shrimp, salted squid, marinated cucumbers, and seasoned garlic cloves.
In the center of the store is a snack shop. Dying for some Korean fried chicken? You’ll find it at Gala Chicken a franchise that landed in Zion. And there’s a bar/take-out spot next to it that serves four items: fried shrimp, fried vegetable or chicken dumplings, Kim-male-e—fried seaweed roll with sweet potato noodles—and Tteok-bok-ki or spicy seasoned bar rice cakes (see below).
The new Zion is bright and filled with all sorts of wonderful and unusual products. It’s located at 7655 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
There are so many ways to make kimchee, using so many different kinds of ingredients that it’s difficult to land on the ultimate one. I learned from Korean American chef Debbie Lee the difference between Northern and Southern styles, but it’s rare to find examples of Northern kimchee, which to my taste buds has a brighter flavor since it has less salt and red chili and doesn’t use brined seafood for seasoning. The giveaway for Southern kimchee is usually brined shrimp. And that’s what we have here. It’s a cabbage kimchee with burst of green onion that has that familiar red juice to it and the salty, fermented flavor of seafood. But, it’s also nicely tangy and not very spicy. If I can’t find the Northern version, this does just fine. $1.99 a pound
Red Pepper Powder
When stocking your pantry, if you’re looking for just one ingredient key to Korean cooking, this is it. And you can tell by how much shelf space in the market is dedicated to it. There are several brands in all sorts of sizes and even grinds, from fine to coarse. Korean red pepper powder is hot and fragrant with a touch of smokiness to it. It’s essential for kimchee, of course, but also to flavor soups and marinades. I bought a pound bag of the Taekyung brand for $5.99.
Not all “rice cakes” are the same. In Korea, we’re not talking those Styrofoam-like discs reviled by dieters. These are slim genatinous cylinders made of rice flour, salt, and water, but the rice flour can be brown rice, white rice, black rice, or Mugwort (tea-infused). To be honest, I can’t tell much difference in flavor between them. I’m told that these can be sliced and eaten as a snack, dipped in honey, soy sauce, or vinegared hot chili sauce. They can be dropped into soup. They can be sautéed. Or, as in the snack bar, heated and served in a thick, spicy sauce. You can freeze them. Wrap them individually, then defrost about 10 minutes before using. $2.49 for a package of four
I first saw these a little over a year ago at a large Korean market in L.A.’s Koreatown. They were being handed out to shoppers as tastes and I couldn’t get enough. So, when I saw these at Zion, I nabbed a package and am still snacking on them. These round discs are packed with the subtle flavor of persimmon. Sweet, a little chewy, they’re like eating healthy donuts. Just don’t bite into the center, which is the stem. $3.99 a pound