korean food dilemmas

On the way home from work on Monday I stopped at the Korean grocery store on the corner of 13th and Broad. I rarely shop there, despite its proximity to my apartment and extremely friendly owner, who always stands up to greet you when you walk in.

The store makes me uncomfortable; although it is a small place, the shelves and freezers have been arranged in a fashion that make the place seem understocked, as if it has just opened for business, or is just about to close forever. The shelving, which refuses to meet my eye level, is overly simple, and the items are spread out instead of stacked up, and as a result it is hard to perceive the boundary between one kind of food and another. This confusion probably does not present itself so much to Korean customers, who likely understand perfectly well why the cans of mackerel boiled in broth are placed next to the seasoned perilla leaves in flat tins, but I am a stranger in the house of soy paste and giant bags of buckwheat noodles.

Cultural differences aside, I can never escape the feeling the owner has developed his own system of food groupings, and that the system is not imported from overseas, but via the dimensional gateways. Also, there is too much white in the place, and the monochrome brightness suggests that there are no discoveries to be made beyond a quick sweep of the goods.

The other problem is that I live in near-total ignorance of Korean food. I know bulgogi, which is so tasty that many vegetarians have been destroyed on its beefy shores. I know kimchi and its occasional assaults on my stomach. And I know kimbap, which looks and tastes exactly like sushi. I get the sense that kimbap is a distinctive snack in Seoul, but over here the Japanese version has probably muscled out the competition.

Anyway, I ended up bringing home a small jar of kimchi, canned spicy tuna and some instant noodles, which is what I get every single time I go there. The black rice looks interesting, but I can't commit myself to a ten-pound bag of the stuff. Does anyone here have a handle on what to pick up in a Korean grocery store?