A Seoul-food grocer near Terminal

Posted: September 19, 2007

As the Korean supermarket chain H Mart colonizes Philadelphia's middle-class suburbs - with stores in Elkins Park, Levittown and Upper Darby - a world of pan-Asian foraging has opened to intrepid foodies.

It's a world where Wegmans meets Race Street, with wide aisles, alluring displays of produce, cooking demonstrations, free samples and an exotic selection of fresh and packaged ingredients for Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese recipes.

"Our customers will try something in Chinatown and want to make it at home," says Bruce Lee, assistant manager of the Upper Darby store. "We have all the ingredients." The store's of-the-moment inventory includes soft bread crumbs for coating tempura shrimp, soybean paste for making miso soup and authentic Korean barbecue sauce for home grilling.

Like Wegmans, the H Mart chain is all about being gleaming and over-the-top. The Upper Darby store's frozen-dumpling freezer case is as tall as a man and as long as a SEPTA bus. Its fish market offers delicacies like Japanese bluefin tuna. The snack aisle is a riot of sweets, with cartoon packaging in every color.

Upstairs from the grocery store ("We're the only H Mart with an escalator," says Lee) is H Plaza, a glittery food court and shopping center with Korean, Japanese and Chinese restaurants, a bakery, a handful of retail shops, a flat-screen TV tuned to the Korean sports network MBC ESPN and an arcade that draws a giggly and diverse crowd of teenage Dance Dance Revolution enthusiasts.

This slice of Seoul lies not far from SEPTA's 69th Street Terminal, at 7050 Terminal Square. Hours: 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily.

On weekends, parking is free at the municipal lot across the street. Phone: 610-734-1001. *

- Becky Batcha

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