Monday, August 20, 2018

Crying in H-Mart

Hey, I go to this H-Mart.

Lately, my local H Mart is in Cheltenham, a town northeast of Philadelphia. My routine is to drive in for lunch on the weekends, stock up on groceries for the week, and cook something for dinner with whatever fresh bounty inspired me. The H Mart in Cheltenham has two stories; the grocery is on the first floor and the food court is above it. Upstairs, there is an array of stalls for different kinds of food. One is dedicated to sushi, one is strictly Chinese, and another is for traditional Korean jjigaes, bubbling soups served in traditional stone pots called dolsots, which act as mini cauldrons to insure that your soup is still bubbling a good ten minutes past arrival. There’s a stall for Korean street food, which serves up Korean ramen (which basically just means Shin Cup Noodles with an egg cracked in them); giant steamed dumplings full of pork and glass noodles, housed in a thick, cake-like dough; and tteokbokki, chewy, bite-sized cylindrical rice cakes boiled in a stock with fishcakes, red pepper, and gochujang, a sweet-and-spicy paste that’s one of the three mother sauces used in pretty much all Korean dishes. Last, there’s my personal favorite: Korean-Chinese fusion, which serves tangsuyuk—a glossy, sweet-and-sour orange pork—seafood noodle soup, fried rice, and jajangmyeon.

The food court is the perfect place to people-watch while sucking down salty, fatty, black-bean noodles. I think about my family who lived in Korea, before most of them died, and how Korean-Chinese food was always the first thing we’d eat when my mom and I arrived in Seoul after a fourteen-hour flight from America. Twenty minutes after my aunt would phone in our order, the apartment ringer would buzz “Für Elise” in midi, and up would come a helmeted man, fresh off his motorcycle, with a giant steel box. He’d slide open the metal door and deliver heaping bowls of noodles and deep-fried battered pork with its rich sauce on the side. The Saran wrap on top would be concave and sweating. We’d peel it off and dribble black, chunky goodness all over the noodles and pour the shiny, sticky, translucent orange sauce over the pork. We’d sit cross-legged on the cool marble floor, slurping and reaching over one another. My aunts and mom and grandmother would jabber on in Korean, and I would eat and listen, unable to comprehend, bothering my mom every so often to translate.