Monday, April 18, 2016

how the mighty have fallen

I took a trip out to Hannam Supermarket (also known as Hannam Market or Hannam Super) for the first time in years. I used to go there often when I lived in the Sookmyung University neighborhood; years later, I'd heard a rumor from a colleague that the market had gone under, which was disappointing news. Last year, I'd heard from someone else that that rumor was wrong, and I've been wanting to go back ever since. I tried to go there once, not long ago, but the place was closed. Tonight, I called the store first and discovered that it would be open until 8:30PM. I was looking for cilantro, among other things; from what I remembered, Hannam would be the place to find it. Overpriced, yes, but available.

The entrance to Hannam Super lies underground, so when I first stepped out of the cab, I couldn't tell whether the store was really open. I trudged down the steps and was happy to see that the place was indeed open... but the moment I stepped through the sliding doors, I saw and felt that something was very, very wrong.

It used to be that, as soon as you walked in, there was a mini-store to your left, with its own cash register: this store sold household products (detergent, etc.), bottles of Nutella and Nutella knockoffs, US and foreign cheeses in small packages, frozen rolls of Jimmy Dean sausage (and other frozen meats found in typical US groceries), some hygiene and pharmaceutical items that Westerners would normally have trouble finding in Korean stores (proper armpit deodorant, 300-count bottles of Bayer aspirin), and so on. On the right, as you walked in, there used to be a cheesemonger with an impressive (and impressively fragrant) spread of cheeses from around the world: wheels, wedges, slices, cubes, and logs of it. In front of you, there had been another shop-within-a-shop that sold larger items—things like gas ranges or large plastic boxes of flash-frozen berries. Beyond that store lay the main store, where you could find items that would be nearly impossible to find anywhere else: cilantro, different types of parsley, kirsch, Turkish delight, couscous, lamb from Australia or New Zealand, star anise, cumin, decent masala.

Almost all of that was now gone, I saw. The little store-to-the-left was still there, but it was no longer an independent store. The main store in the back was sealed off and dead; the lights were off, and stacks of boxes made the place look as if people were getting ready to strike camp. Perhaps a third of the stock from the main store had been pulled forward into the store-within-a-store, and that was now the main store. One man—the same man I remembered from 2008—sat at a makeshift cashier's counter, keeping watch over both segments of the now-reduced market. It was a sad sight.

Gone were the racks of imported vegetables; in their place was a single glass-door fridge with a sad little supply of veggies; I found some packs of wilted cilantro and tossed them into my basket. I went into the little side store to look for aspirin, Pepto Bismol, and Preparation H—all of which I remember having been there before—and found only the Pepto. Fine. I tossed that into my basket. I found couscous and red-wine vinegar; I found a few other American items that made me smile, and I tossed those things into the basket as well.

When I went to the counter to ring my purchases up, I told the man that I used to come here often, but that the last time I had been here was likely 2008. "So you remember how the store was—back there?" He jerked a thumb behind him, indicating the black space that used to be the main store, but which now held only stacks of boxes. "We'll be closing up in a few months," he went on. "Too many new stores like this one have popped up."

"Competition," I said, and he nodded and grimaced. My total came out to a whopping W95,000 (almost $90, US) for a half-full basket of items. Hannam was as overpriced as I remembered it, but for the cilantro, at least, I had little choice but to go to a place like that. (High Street Market, up the street in Itaewon, sells cilantro, but they're almost always out whenever I look for it.) "Well, it's disappointing to see this happening," I said. "I used to come here to find things that were hard to find elsewhere."

The man gave me a business card and said, "Let me know if you need me to find anything for you." I told him I would, but in all honesty, I had no idea whether I'd be back. The store was no longer what it used to be.

The cilantro was wilted, but it was potent enough to flavor up the chimichurri I made when I got back to my place—my very first chimichurri. Which was awesome, by the way. I'll be using it as part of my new low-carb regime. I bought 1.5 kg of shabu beef from Costco, plus fresh basil (half of which I used in the chimichurri) and some leafy greens, and I'll be making vegetable beef wraps starting this week. This incredible Argentinian sauce is, at least in part, courtesy of the moribund Hannam Super. I'm sad to see the store go.



John from Daejeon said...

I made my one and only trip to Hannam Supermarket back in either 2010 or 2011, so it's been a shell like that for years. Hell, I thought it would have been dead and gone soon way back then. Luckily, there's Haddon Supermarket (a.k.a. Haddon House) where you can get your cilantro fix. Haddon is pricey, but they do provide drop-off service in the area. They also have the nicest workers I've seen anywhere on this planet. If you have the fortitude, walk to the store from the closest subway station. It's a pretty good hike.

Charles said...

I remember Hannam Supermarket! Had no idea it was still open (if that can be called open). But it makes sense. Back then, there weren't many options; now, there are tons. If you're not agile enough to see which way the wind is blowing and figure out how to remain competitive, you're toast.

Cilantro is still a tricky treat to find--so we just started growing our own. It works surprisingly well.

hahnak said...

i was going to suggest this. why not try your hand at growing certain herbs?

Kevin Kim said...


Tried with basil, but the plants never got beyond scrawny. I keep my blinds down all day long, so there'd be a light-source problem in my apartment as well. Add to that the fact that I don't seem to have a green thumb.

hahnak said...

yes, you really cant grow things indoors (at least not without lights). i was going to suggest finding a plot somewhere or trying your hand at 5 gallon bucket growing. but i dont know how feasible tht is in your current situation.

Charles said...

Yeah, as you know, we are lucky enough to have a semi-outdoor growing space--at least, it gets a lot of light. But wouldn't I would give for a little patch of land to grow my own herb garden.

(OK, I guess there's a lot I wouldn't give, seeing as how I don't have one, but it's on my list of things to have one day, like a real oven.)

Bratfink said...

*sigh* I am one of those unlucky souls to whom cilantro tastes like soap. :((((

Kevin Kim said...


Not to worry: you can make chimichurri with basil, parsley, and oregano if you want.

John from Daejeon said...

Kevin, you might want to go to for "indoor grow tents." They've come down a lot in price and even the grow lights for them are very reasonable nowadays thanks to China's versions of and being able to sell their wares on You can also make your own indoor grow tent/box by using reflective mylar sheeting attached to cardboard.

For inspiration, there are plenty of videos for growing everything from cucumbers in grow tents to personal medication (which is what I bet most of them are sold for).

Bratfink said...

Basil gives me the runs. :(

Kevin Kim said...

Sigh... so you just can't eat anything fun, can you. Alas.

Maven said...

Regarding the cilantro, I hope you use every part of it. I use the leaves for garnish type applications, and the stems I will mince up fine and toss into stir fry or puree it down with garlic and oil for pestos. Everything except the root and the rubber band is used by me.

It is a great herb, and healthy too, as it allegedly helps the liver chelate heavy metals out of your system:)