This article is part of a series highlighting the hidden (and not so hidden) gems in Vancouver and surrounding areas.
The funny thing about living in a city is that one person’s hidden gem is another’s regular spot.
What may seem off-the-beaten trail and undiscovered to one person is part of someone else’s daily routine – a place they’ve known about and have been visiting for years. This is what makes living in a city so exciting and dynamic: there’s always something new to find that is, in fact, already deeply woven into the fabric of the community.
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The city market is one such kind of “hidden” spot. Vancouver has plenty of large chain supermarkets to do your grocery shopping, of course, but it is also home to smaller, family-owned markets that cater to ethnic enclaves and stock their shelves with lesser-known, harder-to-find products.
For folks living in Mount Pleasant, Kim’s Mart is one example of this kind of place. The Korean grocer stocks everything from rice vinegar to packs of ramen to dozens of brands of gochujang.
This shop has been my go-to for 90% of my groceries since I first moved to the neighbourhood three years ago.
The selection of produce is wide and ranging, and you’ll find Japanese cucumbers alongside giant jackfruit, perilla (a leafy herb that is part of the mint family), tons of mushroom varieties, and generous bags of gai lan. The produce section at Kim’s structures most of my meals.
Down the aisles, you’ll find several different noodles, dried seaweed, packs of chicken-frying batter mix, and other essentials for Korean cooking.
There’s also a snack aisle with treats like ramen chips, cookies, and Pocky, of course. Kim’s also carries some Japanese brands, as well as bottled coffee drinks, Chupa Chups sodas, and Ramune drinks.
Kim’s has a freezer section packed with frozen dumplings, seafood, and goodies like mozzarella corn dogs. The meat and fresh seafood section is always reasonably priced – this is the place to go if you’re looking to buy a whole fish or octopus.
Don’t forget to stock up on things from the refrigerated section before checking out. Kim’s is a great place for wonton wrappers, tofu, fresh noodles (seriously, don’t sleep on the fresh noodles), mochi, and house-made packs of banchan.
You can also grab some of Kim’s house-made kimchi, which they make in several different varieties, including vegan (without fish sauce) and white kimchi. This stuff comes in small containers but also giant tubs for those who use kimchi as more than banchan (a Korean side dish, often paired with rice.)
One of the best things about this part of the market is that you can grab lunch while grabbing groceries – containers of freshly-made kimbap (or gimbap, a Korean sushi), boiled squid snacks, and marinated seaweed line the shelves for easy grab-and-go options.
A small freezer at the front stocks Melona bars, taiyaki (the fish-shaped ice cream pastries), and other frozen treats.
A favourite tradition is to grab one of the market’s paper bags filled with Korean sweet potatoes, roasted right on site, and eat it on the way home.
For fans of H Mart, Kim’s Mart carries much of the same products but in a community market context. I was able to get three bags full of groceries for around $90 – something that never would have happened had I shopped at one of the other big grocery stores in the area.
It takes a very particular kind of grocery shopping experience to feel “inspired” to cook – especially when, for the last two years, most of us have been cooking inside for most of our meals. But small-scale markets like Kim’s restores some of the excitement of home cooking again, like a magic spell in the form of glass noodles and shishito peppers.
Next time you’re looking for some specialty products that can’t be found at a Buy Low or Safeway, swing by Kim’s Mart and be prepared to be inspired to cook new things – and don’t sleep on the roasted yams!
Address: 519 East Broadway, Vancouver