A Definitive Guide to Columbia's Grocery Stores (Part 2)
Welcome to Part 2 of our series reviewing Columbia's grocery stores! If you haven't already read Part 1, we encourage you to check that out first. And without further ado, let's continue:
Availability of Common: ★★⯨
Availability of Luxury: ★★★★
Premade food: ★★★★
A staple for international and domestic students alike, this Korean grocery store has a wide variety of items for cooks of all tastes and skill levels. Their produce section is of moderate size, but with a handful more East Asian-specific goods. H Mart also has the largest selection of seafood of any of the grocery stores I visited ranging from sushi-grade salmon to uni. They were also the only store that was selling honest-to-god Japanese wagyu beef at $99.99/lb.
H Mart also has a decently large selection of cooking equipment such as rice cookers and KBBQ cooktops as well as utensils and tableware. Being a Korean market, H Mart has plenty of items that you would be likely not to find at other stores, such as a wall of ramen and kimchi, as well as various vinegars, oils, and aromatics. They also have a good variety of imported hard and soft drinks including Sapporo beer and Ramune.
At H Mart you have a good amount of options to balance affordability and quality. Given that it is a specialty store, they carry a larger variety of a smaller selection of items. Their prepared food section is more of the same, where they offer a selection including kimbap and fried chicken, but have a great variety.
Ultimately, for those that cook East Asian food regularly, this is clearly the best and easiest place for you. Those that do not, however, may want to avoid H Mart as their everyday grocery store but is perfect for when you want to try your hand at East Asian cuisine.
Garden of Eden
Availability of Common: ★★★★
Availability of Luxury: ★★
Premade food: ★★★
Located on 106th St., Garden of Eden ends up being a store that is generally overshadowed by Westside Market in many ways but does bolster some positives. For one, they do have the best produce section as far as everyday produce is concerned (8 limes for $3!), but they do lack some more uncommon produce goods. They also have the most open layout of any grocery store I visited with a decently cozy feel.
As far as any luxury goods that would push this over the top, they do have a decent collection of imported cheeses and local and imported jams, but again it’s not any better than what Westside already has. They do offer some pre-made food in the form of a salad bar, sushi, a bakery, and desserts. Garden of Eden, from the items that I looked at, seemed to be either in the same price range or lower than Westside Market. So if you are on a strict budget I’d say go here. But, if you’re on such a strict budget that a 20-cent difference in chicken breasts is going to make a difference I’d say it’d be more worth it to go to my next two options below.
Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods
If you don’t mind walking ~20 blocks or taking the subway down to 96th, here is my ultimate money-saving strategy. Trader Joe’s is well known for everything in its store being of their own private label, putting them at a significant discount compared to most brand-name items. However, this ends up meaning that Trader Joe’s inventory can be discontinued at a moment's notice. This can lead to TJ’s being somewhat unreliable on a week-to-week basis if you’re looking for something specific. This is where Whole Foods comes into play.
Trader Joe’s is located on 92nd and Amsterdam and Whole Foods is on 97th. So, my strategy is to go to Trader Joe’s first, get everything that I am able to there for the lower price, then walk north to Whole Foods, and fill in the gaps on my shopping list. This has worked for me almost 100% of the time and makes for a much cheaper grocery run, albeit with the added hassle of getting down there. On the rare occasion that I am unable to find one or two ingredients, what’s stopping me from making a third stop at Westside on my way back up?
Phew! That was a lot. I hope that this list is able to help you get a rough understanding of the array of grocery stores that you have at your fingertips. I would love for this to be a living document, so if there are any stores I’ve missed, any disagreements you have with any of my rankings or reasonings, or any constructive criticisms or suggestions at all, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Happy shopping, happy cooking, and happy eating!