Korean food does not have a very high profile in Minnesota. This is not because there are very few Koreans in Minnesota. As of the 2010 census, the numbers were not so far below the Vietnamese and the Twin Cities are dotted with Vietnamese restaurants. On the other hand, in the metro area there are very few Korean restaurants worth comment. This is probably down to the fact that despite decades of immigration, Korean food remains on the fringes of mainstream American consciousness—well behind Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian and even Vietnamese. Unless you’re in Los Angeles or New York or the Bay Area, you’re not going to come across a concentrated Korean population with an ecosystem of restaurants catering to in-culture diners; and for whatever reason, awareness of Korean food remains low elsewhere in the US among those who don’t habitually eat outside their own cultural comfort zone. So it is in Minnesota, even though the number of families here with Korean connections via adoption is quite high relative to most of the US.
Hoban in Eagan is probably the best of the restaurants in the Twin Cities metro and it’s just about passable at best—we only eat there before or after visits to their adjoining box karaoke business (I should probably review them at some point anyway). They now have a dedicated Korean bbq restaurant in Minneapolis as well but we haven’t yet made it there. Beyond the Hoban mini-empire is the eatery attached to the Dong Yang market up in Columbia Heights and that’s not really worth getting very excited about either. The Rabbit Hole in Minneapolis is nominally Korean-American—though it is in fact really a pan-Asian place (it’s also not, in our opinion, so very good).
Not surprisingly, there aren’t very many Korean groceries around either. The two established businesses are the aforementioned Dong Yang and Kim’s Oriental on Snelling in St. Paul. For most of our time here so far these were the places we’d go to for our Korean food shopping. A couple of years ago, however, we learned of the existence of Hana Market in Bloomington and it’s become our Korean market of convenience. Herewith a look at what you can expect to find there. Hana is the place I was referring to, by the way, when I said a couple of weeks ago that I’d have a report soon on a Korean market in Eagan. Frankly, I’m never sure where the boundaries between the various south metro suburbs are, but Hana Market’s address is in Bloomington. It’s most easily reached (for us anyway) by getting off Cedar Avenue/77 at Old Shakopee and going about half a mile or so. It’s quite a bit closer to us than Dong Yang or Kim’s and that makes it very convenient despite the fact that the selection, especially of produce is a bit smaller than at either of those places.
The big sign out front says “Oriental Market” but it’s a Korean market through and through. All the basics of the Korean pantry can be found here—though, again, the produce is pretty limited. Also limited is the selection of prepared banchan or side dishes but we don’t tend to buy much of that stuff anyway: neither the price nor the quality recommends that stuff even in the more established Korean groceries in the Twin Cities. But unless you’re a very hardcore Korean cook you can probably find what you need here. And if you’re not a very hardcore Korean cook at all you should know that the people at Hana are friendly and will be happy to answer any questions you have.
My next market report will probably be of another South Asian store, probably in St. Paul. I have more local Southeast Asian restaurant reports on the docket as well. If you’re a local and not interested in whisky, check back next week for more on those.