As much as I adore Korean food, sometimes I just need a break from all the rice and kimchi. The availability of western brands and products in the regular supermarkets is definitely respectable, but there are just some things the likes of Lotte Mart, Home Plus, and E-Mart don't carry. Luckily, Costco does exist in Korea, and it's basically a mecca for Westerners who need to stock up on some favorites from home.
Cue choirs of angels singing.
Costco has quite a few locations around Korea. Even though the store closest to me, living in Incheon, is over an hour away in Seoul, getting there and back is pretty painless if you're willing to put in the time and energy.
Speaking of the time and energy, you're probably wondering what would draw my friends and I all the way to Seoul just for Costco. One word: sandwiches. Deli meats, quality cheese, pesto, real bagels, kettle-style chips... Unfortunately, these are all things that are difficult to track down in Korea, save for areas like Itaewon or the military bases. Like I said above, my local grocery stores are amazing, but they still just don't have the things I need for a good sandwich. (Korean ham is... odd. More on the bagels later...) And for me, a good sandwich is simply a priority in my life.
Two awesome things about Costco: 1. Memberships from home will work! They're international. 2. But, if you don't have one from home and you're getting a membership in Korea, good news! It's cheaper than back home! I know in the States, for example, a membership is around $55, whereas in Korea, you're looking at ₩30,000, or roughly $27 USD. And that's for a whole year. Not bad, eh?
Getting signed up is easy -- just look for the membership desk that'll be near the entrance.
We immediately detoured through the food court for some hotdogs, wisely deciding that hungry Costco shopping was dangerous.
Korean Costco itself looks pretty standard -- just like the ones back home, it's a huge warehouse with its shelves piled high, full of family-sized boxes and bottles. The one we went to was two floors, with the food being a level below the appliances and housewares.
Where the magic happens: the food section.
You'll find the typical range of items: cereal, snacks, candy, various sauces, frozen dinners, tubs of ice cream. This being Asia, you'll also find huge bags of rice, an assortment of frozen dumplings, and giant jugs of soy sauce. They have everything. To entice you a little more, and allay any fears of disappointment over Costco's selection of deli meats and such, I offer the following pictures as proof:
Wonderful, delicious ham, turkey, salami... They also have pastrami and prosciutto, among others that I'm forgetting now.
Just a small section of the cheese area. Fills my heart with joy. They also have a great selection of Tilamook cheese.
Some of you may not be as picky about bagels as I am, but I've been really underwhelmed with the bagels produced by various Korean bakeries and coffee shops -- not enough flavor, not very dense, generally plain... But Einstein Bros? Oh, man, I love that place back home. So, I bought four packages. Of six. No exaggeration. (Most of them went into the freezer though, to save for later.)
Considering we were there on a Saturday afternoon, it was surprisingly calm.
In addition to this past weekend's Costco haul, we've picked up quite a variety of things over the past almost-two years in Korea. They've got good salsa, huge packages of tortillas, spices, good coffee, sour cream, granola bars -- you name it. Last Thanksgiving, we even got a turkey, which definitely made our expat gathering even better.
Directions to the Yeongdeungpo-Gu Office area Costco:
From Yeongdeungpo-Gu Office Station Exit 3, head in the direction of the KB, making a right into the alley. (So, if you're coming out of the exit from the subway, do an immediate u-turn.)
Walk straight down the alley for five minutes or so until you come to a light -- at this point you should see Costco dead in front of you.
Exit 3 of the station -- walk straight from here, towards those pointy shrubs, and make a right into the alley!
The Costco haul! Full disclosure: This was for three people. I may have bought 24 bagels, but I'm not this intense.
Taking a trip to Costco may require some strategic planning -- it'll likely be a bit of a trek for you to ge there and whatever you buy, you've gotta get it home somehow. But, I highly recommend checking it out whenever you're feeling homesick while teaching in Korea. My advice: bring a backpack, some large tote bags, and don't let yourself get too overwhelmed by all the wonderful things that you want to eat.
Have you been to Costco in Korea? What foods do you miss from home that you have a hard time finding? Leave a comment below!
Between studying Japanese and Asian culture in university and setting her sights on a teaching career, it came as no surprise when Zannah Smreker announced that she was moving to South Korea to teach for Chungdahm Learning. In November 2011, Zannah accepted a position through Aclipse with the Yeonsu branch in Incheon, just southwest of Seoul. When she's not teaching, she keeps herself busy with exploring Korea, eating all the street food, and hunting down strange English shirts. Check out her blog here for more of her adventures!