Curry, spices and other tasty things at a Southeast Asian food martSoutheast Asian food has long been one of the rarities in Seoul supermarkets. Herbs and tangy spices used in that region’s cuisine were once considered too peculiar for Korean taste. But as Koreans have traveled abroad, their exposure to different ethnic foods has brought the acceptance of many things they once considered too foreign.
Vietnamese Pho shops have popped up everywhere. East-Indian restaurants are trendy places for young Koreans to gather. But the place offering the broadest variety of food from from Southeast Asia is Soho Asia Mart. The shop is smaller than your average corner store, but perhaps that is what makes a visit to Soho so personal, so pleasurable.
If you like Southeast Asian cuisine, there is no way you can get out the door without buying something.
The shop has tropical fruit juice from Thailand, Vietnamese rice noodles, chili sauce, Indian curry pastes, shrimp paste, coconut milk, Indonesian snacks and just about every other Southeast Asian delicacy you can think of. Okay, not everything; after all, it is a tiny shop.
Most of the goods carried by Soho are reasonably priced, too. Lychee, the tropical fruit, costs 3,000 won ($2.50) a can, whereas a package of instant noodles (no, not the super-spicy Korean variety) is 500 won.
The chain store’s newest location is in Myeong-dong; it opened last December. Embassy workers and Southeast Asian students studying in Seoul are the shop’s steady customers. Other Soho locations, most of which are around Ansan and Osan, on Korea’s west coast, are frequented by the Southeast Asians who work in the nearby factories.
“You either like or dislike Southeast Asian food,” says the proprietor of the Myeong-dong shop. “People who like it just can’t live without it. Those who hate it won’t even come near it.”
Soho Asia Mart
Open 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., closed the second and fourth Sunday of each month
In underground arcade connecting Lotte Department Store and Avata Mall in Myeong-dong
by Park Soo-mee