Beginner's guide to H Mart: pantry essentials and snacks

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Shopping at an Asian grocery store can be intimidating. Hopefully the fruits and vegetables guide has helped you gain some confidence in navigating Asian markets. As you continue to explore and expand your selections, try these pantry essentials and snacks.

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Dry Goods

  • Rice Paper
    Did you know it takes less than 30 seconds to prep rice paper? All you have to do is dip it into water and it’s ready for filling! With the endless combinations of vegetables and proteins you can put into wraps, rice paper has become a staple when I’m not feeling salads but still need a healthy serving of veggies. My go to is this bulgolgi wrap with perilla leaves. I also love these 20 recipes that stray away from traditional uses with recipes such as buffalo chickpea with tahini ranch wrap.
  • Sweet Potato Starch Noodles
    Sometimes referred to as glass noodles, sweet potato starch noodles are commonly thrown into Korean soups and stews. Check out this Japache recipe that uses these noodles along with a flexible variety of vegetables. These noodles are great for anyone on a special diet since they’re gluten-free and vegan and AIP approved.
  • Soba Noodles
    Soba noodles, or buckwheat noodles, are another versatile noodle that can be eaten hot or cold. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat which makes it higher in protein and fiber than other noodles that are made with refined flour. Check out these 6 easy-to-cook recipes.

SEASONINGS, FLAVORINGS & SPICES

In addition to soy sauce, white pepper, rice vinegar and sesame oil are pantry essentials for almost all Asian cooking.

  • White Pepper
    White pepper has a distinctly different taste than black pepper and is the preferred choice in many Asian flavors, especially Chinese cooking. It adds a nice zip to this Korean BBQ marinade.
  • Toasted Sesame Oil
    Toasted sesame oil has a very strong, deep flavor that you may recognize from classic Asian sauces such as teriyaki, bulgogi marinades or sesame salad dressings. Learn more about how to buy, store and cook with sesame oil here.
  • Rice Vinegar
    You may recognize the taste of rice vinegar if you’ve ever had dumpling dipping sauces. That particular “zing” and slightly sour flavor profile is from rice vinegar. My go-to for this vinegar are the Marukan products (Organic Original or Lite-Seasoned). The seasoned variety has salt and sugar pre-mixed into the vinegar, so it's perfect for quick pickling vegetables. Simply pour the rice vinegar over any vegetables, let it sit for 30 minutes and serve on top of any meal! In addition to pickling cucumbers, I often use carrots, red onions, radishes or daikon.
  • Mushroom Seasoning
    Unlike what the name suggests, this mushroom seasoning isn’t used to make things taste like mushrooms. This seasoning is a substitute for salt and provides the same umami that MSG gives to a dish. Look for brands with minimal ingredients. This mushroom seasoning that has been a staple in my family’s cooking for as long as I can remember has only 5 ingredients and no added sugar.

SNACKS

Arguably the best part of exploring new cuisines is the snacks (and sweets)! It goes without saying that these should be eaten in moderation, but have fun exploring them. Just to get you started, here are a few classics.

  • Samanco Ice Cream Sandwich
    Each fish-shaped pastry shell is filled with sweet red bean and vanilla ice cream.
  • Kopiko Coffee Hard Candy
    Similar size and texture to a Werther’s Hard Caramel, these cappuccino candies are perfect for coffee lovers and taste just like a Starbucks Frappuccino.
  • Melona Bars (various fruit flavors)
    Melona popsicles are a cult classic. The original and most popular flavor is green honeydew. If you’re not a fan of honeydew, my next favorites are mango or strawberry. Though Melonas are fruit flavored, the bars are creamier and have a texture more similar to ice cream rather than sorbet.
  • Teas
    Ito En is one of the most popular tea brands in Japan with high-quality bottled teas. These teas have no artificial colors or flavors and are brewed from whole tea leaves, not powder or concentrate. My favorites are all their unsweetened teas such as oolong, roasted green tea and bold green tea (pictured below). Even though this is in the “snacks” section, green tea has an abundance of health benefits due to their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and tumor-suppressing effects!
  • Scallion Pancakes
    Morning, midday or night, there is no bad time to eat a scallion pancake! Scallion “pancakes” or cong you bing, is a cross between a croissant and a dough-y bread. It’s flaky and crispy on the outside but gives way to a slightly chewy interior. With only 6 ingredients, scallion pancakes are easy to make from scratch. However, when I’m feeling lazy, I love grabbing a pack from the frozen food section of the store. Scallion pancakes can be used to make breakfast wraps, beef rolls or even to replace tortillas in a taco.

About the Author

Tiffany Yeh, Dietetic Intern

Tiffany received her BS in Nutritional Sciences from Cornell University in 2019. After working in healthcare administration for two years, she decided to pursue a masters at the Gillings School of Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill. Set to graduate in 2023, Tiffany is looking forward to continuing her career in dietetics in Manhattan. Outside of school and work, she enjoys painting, traveling to see her family in California and Malaysia, and exploring new cities through food. 

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About Author

Ashley Bailey, MS, RDN, LDN

Nutritionist

Ashley is a Nutritionist at SAS Institute in Cary, NC. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Biofeedback Instructor, and has a Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management. Outside of work, Ashley enjoys spending as much time as possible at the beach, running, cooking and crafting. Follow @abaileyRD on Twitter.

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