When I lived in Canada, I cooked mostly Korean food at home. Living near Toronto, there was no shortage of delicious foods from all over the world, and Korean food is a family favourite. Now that I eat Korean food daily for lunch and many dinners, I find myself wanting to cook a little less Korean food to keep some diversity in my meals.
When wandering the streets of a big city like Seoul or Busan, anything from Indian curry to Italian pizza is less than a subway stop away. Move a little ways out of the city, and you’ll find your foreign food options rapidly decrease.
In my mid-size town of Taebaek, located in Gangwon-do, our options are mediocre. We have a couple Italian restaurants (complete with a Korean spin). Our Emart, which is the smallest in the country, stocks a few basics like spaghetti and tomato sauce (again with a Korean spin – nothing shall go unsweetend!). But overall, the options are fairly limited when I want to get a taste of home.
Big department stores typically have a better selection than smaller local grocery marts. While my local grocery mart stocks a few more foreign items like chia seeds, tortillas, and spaghetti, emart has a slightly larger selection. Department stores are also the best places to find foreign treats like beer, wine, and chocolate.
Peanut lentils, with everything available at the local mart or Emart!
iHerb is my personal go-to for non-perishable foreign goods. The prices are very reasonable, and orders over 40 USD get free, fast shipping. Not only does iHerb stock tons of grocery items like flour, snacks, peanut butter, oils, spices, and so much more, but they also sell other goods like make-up and supplements.
Gmarket is another great online option for some foreign food options. However, the prices for foreign goodies can often be ridiculous so always look around in other places to compare before making a purchase. I buy thinks like coconut oil, peanut butter, almond milk, and candy here.
If you have a couple buddies in town and access to a car, Costco is a great option for buying foreign foods. They stock a lot of the same products as Costco at home, and the prices are reasonable. The teachers in Taebaek pitched in for an annual membership (about 6,000 won each) and we take a trip every 6 weeks or so. This is a great stop for oils, cheese, chips, and greek yogurt.
Highstreet Market (Itaewon)
Highstreet Market is a brick-and-mortar and online store specializing in high quality foreign foods. I’ve never purchased anything from here as the other suggestions have always met my needs. However, I’ve heard good things about Highstreet so it’s worth a try if you can’t find what you need anywhere else.
When in Doubt, Make Your Own!
A lot of basic items like bread and yogurt are expensive and low-quality here. Unfortunately, many of these basic items are perishable, and easy to order online. So I’ve resorted to making some of these basics at home in order to save money and access better quality food. Pickles, pasta (like gnocchi), tomato sauce, and baked treats are other options to try. This is also a great opportunity to work on cooking skills!
At the end of the day, I think it’s important to try as much local food as possible. It tends to be cheaper, easy to access, healthy, and delicious. It’s one of the most exciting parts of cultural immersion, and a great way to connect to people when language and other differences create barriers. That being said, it’s normal to get cravings for the foods we grew up on. Having a bite of rich mac and cheese or a taco can be the perfect medicine for homesickness.
What foods do you miss most when you’re away from home?