Grocery Shopping in Korea
One of the most significant adjustments to moving to a foreign country is learning how to grocery shop again. The food selection in Korea is different, and almost all of the food and product labels are not in English. Some things that were cheap in the United States are not cheap here, and vice versa. While it took me a while to figure things out, I have gotten into somewhat of a comfortable routine.
On weekdays, after I get out of my spinning class at 10:15 AM, I usually walk to the Lotte Mart grocery store which is right next to my gym. Lotte Mart is a giant department store that is everywhere and basically runs all of Korea. Their biggest department stores have everything under the sun, from clothes to food, to cleaning supplies, to pet birds.
Because I don’t drive here in Korea, I can only buy enough stuff that will fit into one bag, or else I won’t be able to carry it home. This is one aspect that makes the game of grocery shopping more challenging. You have to really prioritize each trip. Sometimes it’s a trip solely for a paper towel pack, sometimes it's for drinks, etc.
This particular Lotte Mart grocery store that I shop at is in the basement of a building. When I enter the building, I take an escalator down from the first floor to get there. I grab a basket, and head for the produce section. Lotte has a couple of prepackaged salads that have cucumbers, bell peppers, cabbage, and lettuce. These salads are reasonably big and only cost 1,800 won, which is around $1.50, and is incredibly cheap if you think about the average prepackaged salad at your local Safeway in the US. They also have “western style” dressings that are fairly cheap and tasty. Salads are not a typical part of Korean diets, so it’s nice that I’m able to find these salads at a grocery store near me.
Another one of my Korean grocery staples is the packaged pork or shrimp dumplings. These are found in the freezer section and are quick and easy for me to eat on weekdays for lunch. The frozen section also has chicken nuggets and all sorts of dumplings and snacks.
A big staple all over Korea is rice. Everywhere you go, you can find the same cooked rice bowls. They are sold individually, as well as in packs of 3, 6, or even more. White rice is the most common, and you can find these at convenience stores on every corner. The Lotte I shop at has different kinds of rice, like black rice which is my favorite. I always stock up on these because rice is a big part of my diet and my primary source of carbs.
As far as beverages go, I usually just buy boxes of almond milk at Lotte. Sometimes I buy boxes of tea, juice, etc.… but I can only purchase these extras if I think I will have enough room to carry it home with me.
I also try to buy big bags of candy here. Candy is one of the main incentives used in Korea to convince children to behave. I often buy giant bags of candy like one would for Halloween in the US, usually something like individual mini Snickers or Mentos. While I hate to see kids here eating so much candy and inevitably rotting their teeth, it is a bribery method that works, and I don’t want to question it at this point. Maybe I will try to switch to healthier treats eventually.
While grocery shopping in a foreign country has been an adjustment for me, I have found that everything is so much more affordable here. It's really nice leaving the grocery store with everything you need for only $25-$35.
To supplement my grocery shopping, I also subscribe to a vegan meal delivery service which is linked on my resource page.