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Yakult, ramen or Asian pears: What does your H Mart purchase say about you?

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The variety of offerings at the Korean grocery chain H Mart can be overwhelming.
(Dami Lee / For The Times)

If you’re lucky enough to live by an H Mart — the Korean grocery chain with a massive selection of everything from fermented soybean paste to kitchen electronics — you know that the variety of offerings can be overwhelming. The H in H Mart stands for “han ah reum,” or “one arm full of groceries.” And as such, the products you choose to carry in that arm reveal more than just your appetite. Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin may have said, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are”; for Koreans, what you walk out of H Mart with is even more revealing.

Banana milk

바나나맛 우유

Banana milk
Also comes in strawberry, melon and light varieties. Dami Lee / For The Times

With its green foil lid and stout container, this sweet, banana-flavored milk is instantly recognizable, its silhouette designed to resemble traditional onggi jars.

If you buy this: You’re a soft-hearted baby who cries over every stray animal that crosses your path.

500 Melona bars

메로나

Melona Bar
The O.G. of Korean popsicles and a summertime staple. Dami Lee / For The Times

These square, melon-flavored ice creams are basic compared with today’s Korean popsicle advancements (which include a shark-shaped bar that looks like it’s bleeding inside when you bite into it), but it’s a classic that’s been around for decades. It melts into a creamy, soft serve-like texture as you eat it, the perfect palate cleanser for the end of a heavy meal.

If you buy this: You’re the owner of a K-BBQ restaurant. Any restaurant that serves these at the end of a meal can be considered, as they say, the “complete package.”

Samyang 2x spicy Buldak ramen

핵불닭볶음면

Samyang 2x Spicy Buldak ramen
If you buy this, you probably have a YouTube channel. Dami Lee / For The Times

As if the original Buldak ramen wasn’t devastatingly spicy enough, the makers decided to up the ante by creating a product for people who want to feel something, anything again.

If you buy this: You’re a Mukbang YouTuber with plans to upload a video titled “i almost DIED?!?” and it’s 43 minutes long.

New, unknown ramen brand that features an ungodly mix of flavors like pizza and spaghetti

Pizza-flavored ramen
Life is for the living. Dami Lee / For The Times

Clearly an experiment by a multinational food conglomerate to capture the youth demographic, these “wacky flavor” ramens will either go crazy viral or be discontinued in three months.

If you buy this: You’re a mildly adventurous risk-taker with FOMO. Every so often, new products will pop up on the shelves that’ll remind you how long it’s been since you visited the motherland. You’ll buy a pack to feel like you’re still part of the culture back home, but when you send a photo to your mom, she’ll say, “They still sell those over there?”

Nappa cabbage

배추

Nappa cabbage
Add these to your kimchi squat for the full Korean experience. Dami Lee / For The Times

Any good kimchi starts with a healthy head of nappa cabbage.

If you buy this: Anyone who takes on the multiday ordeal that is making kimchi should be commended. You’re a provider, a stable rock to whom all your friends turn in their time of need.

Marinated meats

Marinated meats
If you’re Korean, your parents have no doubt mentioned how expensive meat is these days. Dami Lee / For The Times

Fancier H Marts will have a section dedicated to marinated meats like dakgalbi and beef bulgogi. All you have to do is take a big bag home and grill it throughout the week for a quick dinner.

If you buy this: You’re the life of the party! You’re in 12 group chats and the shining star in all of them. (Everyone has a separate group chat without you in it, though.)

Ottogi 3 minute Curry (karerice)

카레

Ottogi 3 minute Curry
Dami Lee / For The Times

Within its iconic retro yellow packaging, this instant curry mix is a household favorite for making huge batches to be frozen and microwaved as needed.

If you buy this: You’re my mom leaving for a weeklong vacation with her friends. Please come back soon. Dad and I miss you, and we’re getting sick of eating this.

Pocky

포키

Pocky
A classic snack. Are you Team Pocky or Team Pepero? Dami Lee / For The Times

Biscuit sticks covered in a thin layer of chocolate, Pocky is the quintessential Asian American snack. The brand is strong enough to be plastered on phone cases and featured in a Uniqlo collaboration.

If you buy this: You’re drunk after karaoke and need to stock up on snacks for the Uber ride home.

Pocky, for men

Pocky, for men
This is a thing that exists. Women can eat it too. Dami Lee / For The Times

The same Pocky, but in a bittersweet dark chocolate coating.

If you buy this: You signed an online petition for a remake of “Game of Thrones” Season 8.

Rice puffs, ppeong twigi

뻥튀기

Rice puffs
Once you ppeong, you can’t stop. Dami Lee / For The Times

These Frisbee discs of puffed rice were traditionally made by Korean street vendors using huge, high-pressure machines to pop the grains into light, airy snacks. The “ppeong” is an onomatopoeia, the sound of the explosion heard throughout every neighborhood, signaling that a ppeong twigi truck is nearby. It tastes like nutty, crispy rice, with just the faintest bit of sweetness that lingers on your tongue like a ghost.

If you buy this: You’re an old soul. You have one of those folio phone cases that opens up like a book.

Matdongsan

맛동산

Matdongsan
Dami Lee / For The Times

These sticky-sweet peanut crackers are a last-resort snack for kids, often left for dead at the back of the pantry. But older generations will hold on to the gaudy bag for weeks, eating it a couple handfuls at a time until the twist-tie has worn out.

If you buy this: You’ve lived through at least one war. Your favorite activity is confidently shouting out wrong “Jeopardy!” answers.

Ace crackers

에이스 크래커

Ace crackers
Dami Lee / For The Times

Delicious, buttery-light crackers that come in the most frustrating packaging ever. This company’s ideal demographic is the kind of person who carefully schedules their day to indulge in “tea time.”

If you buy this: You don’t give a hoot about tea time and you love crumbs in your car.

A box of Asian pears

Asian pears
An acceptable gift for anyone you’re trying to impress. Dami Lee / For The Times

Pleasingly round, refreshingly crisp and extremely juicy when ripe, these pears often are used to add sweetness in a short rib marinade or to cut through the richness in a cold bowl of nengmyun.

If you buy this: You’re trying really hard to impress someone, like your boss at her dinner party, or relatives you know only by their titles and not their real names because your parents never taught them to you.

A family pack of Yakult

야쿠르트

Yakult
So good but so small. For adults, mix with soju. Dami Lee / For The Times

A yogurty-sweet probiotic drink that promotes gut health. What Activia did for Jamie Lee Curtis, Yakult did for entire Asian nations and parts of Latin America.

If you buy this: You grew up in a large family and were traumatized by siblings stealing your snacks, so you made a promise to your younger self you’d never experience that kind of heartbreak again.

Chamwae, Korean melon

참외

Chamwae
Best served sliced on a plate with a small fruit fork and offered as a loving and encouraging snack while you’re doing your homework. Dami Lee / For The Times

A petite summer fruit with a thin, yellow rind that tastes like a toned-down version of a honeydew.

If you buy this: No one else buys these except moms. In fact, you realize it’s been months since you last had a piece of fruit, and there’s no one around to offer you a plate. You buy one just for kicks, and it doesn’t taste as sweet as you remember.

Hetbahn microwavable rice

햇반

Hetbahn
When time is a factor, Hetbahn microwavable rice comes to the rescue. Dami Lee / For The Times

Precooked rice that takes 90 seconds to cook, these little plastic bowls taste surprisingly like freshly made rice.

If you buy this: You’re In The Middle of Something, like med school or a breakup, maybe both. You own a rice cooker but can’t be bothered or don’t have time or the will to live to use it.

Electric griddle

전기그릴

Electric griddle
An electric griddle is essential for your next pork belly cookout. Don’t forget the sliced raw garlic and ssamjang. Dami Lee / For The Times

These nonstick griddles are great for cooking samgyupsal, or pork belly, right at the dining table. It’s the closest thing to re-creating the K-BBQ experience at home. Just open the window when you’re cooking so you don’t smell like meat the next day, unless you want that.

If you buy this: You don’t mess around; you’re here for business. You demand quality in everything you do. You’re a midlevel manager at a fast-growing startup.

5 boxes of Choco Pies

초코파이

Choco Pie
Dami Lee / For The Times

A classic Korean dessert: a chewy marshmallow filling sandwiched between two cakey discs, enrobed in chocolate. South Korean men serving their mandatory military service dream of this nostalgic snack, and in North Korea, it has achieved status as a black-market good that gets resold at inflated prices.

If you buy this: You were in charge of snacks for church choir but you forgot.

Rubber gloves

고무 장갑

Rubber gloves
Rubber gloves are necessary for Korean households, where the dishwasher is never used and just takes up space. Dami Lee / For The Times

The rubber gloves at H Mart are light-years ahead of what they sell at the average American supermarket, with state-of-the-art features like soft cotton lining and guards to prevent errant water drops from rolling down your elbow. If you know, you know.

If you buy this: You’re into self-improvement and always up for trying something new. You have a 243-day streak learning German on Duolingo.

Oreos

오레오

Oreos
진짜? Dami Lee / For The Times

You know what an Oreo is.

If you buy this: Are you kidding me right now? Did you just buy American snacks from a Korean grocery store? Who are you? Why are you here? Why does H Mart even stock these?

Let’s watch some mukbang together

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