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6 Western-friendly stores in Korea

korean stores, western friendly stores in korea, stores for expats in korea, English stores in Korea, where can an expat in Korea go to get food from homeTop Western-friendly Stores in Korea: Food samples anyone?

Okay, Korea expat newbies- this is my Welcome to Korea gift to you; Korea expat oldies– this might give you a good laugh!

Ever taken an American road trip?

You’re passing through unfamiliar terrain and you’re hungry. You want food, supplies… maybe even, a last-minute bikini! Not a familiar store in sight– just a joint selling deep-fried chicken wings, a 24-hour gas station convenience store and a biker bar.  Then down the stretch you see it– a giant glowing… Target! Angels sing. There’s a halo over the neon red bulls-eye… and it’s right next to a big blue and yellow sign (gasp!) …a Best Buy!

Now as a traveler, you don’t want your exotic destinations littered with a bunch of Kmarts, Walmarts and Targets. They spoil the notion of an exotic getaway . But when you live abroad, it’s damn hard not to feel a slight whoop! when you see a one-stop shop chain store resemblance.

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Korea has one-stop shopping giants, similar to Target and Kmart
with one major difference– Korea knows how to make shopping an experience!

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For that one concrete perimeter of a moment, you’re not too far from feeling like you’re back at home, stocking your icebox and apartment, with household items and groceries to keep you merry.

Here’s some western-friendly stores to keep you sane …and entertained:

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Emart

Is it silly to say I hear angelic singing whenever I see an Emart sign? I do.

One-stop shopping (for the newly arrived):
Emart and Homeplus are the two major brands off the lips of expats as the one-stop shop for groceries, clothing, household goods, bedding and home appliances!

Vitamin shop:
Yes

For those who hunger, but don’t speak Korean:
Both  chains style food courts with numbered “mock dishes” on display (occasional English translations). Go to the cashier and place your order, “Number 25, chuseyo.”
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Travel agencies & photo areas to get your visa photos:
Yes. I recently got 7 visa photos for 7,000W with a one-hour turn-around. Many expats also like to get their vacation visas from the agents here.
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Pharmacy:
Yes .

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Homeplus

Emart is the Korean K-mart; Homeplus is its Walmart. The experience and departments varies slightly.

One-stop shopping:
Yes.

Vitamin shop:

Yes

Food courts with mock dish examples:
Yes.  Similar deal as Emart, but you may not always have  as broad a selection.

Expats and veggie lovers who crave a western twist:
Ashley Restaurant. A buffet-style eatery, which prepares tasty salads and euro-asian cuisine you’ll think heavenly. Sweet potato salad, couscous salad, edamame, etc… Almost half the dishes there have been vegetarian and things your western tastebuds may miss.

Travel agencies & photo areas to get your visa photos:
Yes.

Pharmacy:
Yes .

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Lotte Plaza

One-stop shopping:
Yes

Vitamin shop:
Yes

Food courts with mock dish examples:
Yes.

Ashley Restaurant:
Sometimes.

Pharmacy:
Yes

Three extra incentives: Digital Park for your last-minute tech needs
Some Lotte stores are just a super-grocery store with some household appliances. The one in my neighborhood is a “plaza”. It packs a Digital Park,  a department with a slightly larger array of digital cameras and computers/ accessories, than Emarts & Homepluses.

English Translations:
Tired of feeling like a damsel in distress? I have good news. Helpless? Whoosh- gone! Some of the Lotte stores have their aisles translated in English! Wanna know the difference between detergent fabric softener and bleach? Check the aisle names!

Parking Lot Greeters:
So far I’ve only seen it with Lotte, but maybe parking lot greeters are a new wave of hospitality. Korea, you never cease to amaze me!

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.  lotte shopping greeter, parking greeter in korea, korean stores, western friendly stores in korea, stores for expats in korea, English stores in Korea, where can an expat in Korea go to get food from home .  .  Sometimes you’ve got a girl on a mic greeting cars with a bow and curtsy; sometimes, you’ve got ninja baton twirlers, who really gives off a performance. Inside, the lots there are attendants to point you to aisles with open stalls.  parking greeters in korea, lotte shopping greeter, korean stores, western friendly stores in korea, stores for expats in korea, English stores in Korea, where can an expat in Korea go to get food from home

Shinsegae

My mom dubs it the Neiman Marcus of department stores. Ground-level and up, it stocks chic brand name apparel and beauty products. But I’m not listing this place for clothing racks.

As a vegetarian I get tired of  searching for the staple bibimbap, soon doo bu jigae and kimbaps for my meals on the road. Sometimes, I yearn for a healthy gourmet variety. The basement floor of Shinsegae makes you feel like you’re in an exquisite Parisian bakery. It feels like a different world– where all the beautiful people go. It’s got a plethora of food chef-coated vendors to scour through, offering everything from pastries to pizza, fresh fruit smoothies, salads and hot meals prepared on the spot.

Price-wise? Don’t let the word “gourmet” fool you. This is Korea. Some dishes may cost a little more than street price, but it won’t break your bank.

Note: smaller Shinsegae stores may not have the food court. The big departments normally do, however.

One-stop shopping:
No. Clothes and beauty products. Food court and gourmet grocery store on basement floor.

Food courts with mock dish examples:
They’re not mock but many foods are displayed.

Vitamin shop:
Yes

Pharmacy:
No.

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Costco

If warehouse shopping is the home you’re looking for, Costco is your deal. Costco is Costco— look, style, layout and feel. The prime difference is that you’ll see more Korean products, but it houses a few American ones  too.

One-stop shopping:
Yes and No.

Food courts with English translations:
Yes.

Vitamin shop:
Yes

Pharmacy:
No.

Related posts to read:
What to Bring to Korea: A Costco Card
Being a Vegetarian in Korea: The Costco Honeymoon Begins…

Daiso

Not sure if this really should be on this list, but what the hell. It’s not a one-stop shopping giant, but it should be because it’s one of the most helpful one-stop convenience chain stores in Korea. Daiso, originated from Japan and it’s your average dollar store.

It packs Korean odds-n-ends from stationary to home supplies for cheap and it usually has those oddities that you just can’t find anywhere else. And it’s a great place for souvenir shopping. Recently, I was able to find a quarter of my travel supplies there!

Of all the stores, this one will definitely be a godsend to your expat lifestyle.

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11 Comments

  1. SL says:

    Great post Christine Ka’aloa! You from Hawaii? I was raised there…

    For many good reasons, I have personally built a new “Yelp” like local directory search site in ENGLISH for South Korea called CoreaLocal. The site is finished and super clean. Also, it is FREE to join and you can even log-in with your Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ account.

    At the moment, there’s not a whole lot of listings yet but as we all contribute to it, it should become meaningful and helpful to fellow English speaking folks who live in or visit Korea.

  2. Richard says:

    Sorry – not a grrrl, a guuuuy — but I think this suggestion serves both gender adventurers in Korea equally well. Many comments in your blog note the language challenges in Korea, which is unquestionably true. But here’s a tip. Learn Hangul phonetics anyway — 24 letters, extremely logical, few pronunciation exceptions, “scientifically” designed to make everyone literate in about half an hour. Why? Because in the modern Korean commercial culture, a remarkable share of the words you’ll encounter in stores and restaurants are actually . . . wait for it . . . transliterated English! (or Konglish, or whatever, but the point is you stand a fighting chance of figuring out what it means). And of course, over time, being able to read phonetically means learning Korean words as well, so it only gets easier. Since Koreans are generally very friendly and happy to do business with you, they’ll do their very best to help, and if you surprise them by saying something unexpected in Korean, all the better.

    • @Richard: Apologies for the delayed response…
      Yes, EXCELLENT tip! Learning Hangul phonetics is a great tool, not only for pronunciation but for fooling a Korean into understanding your English! lol. Actually, I’ve used it to speak English when I don’t know the Korean word for something. Immensely useful because some Koreans actually know English but don’t always recognize the English pronunciation. I completely agree with you on all counts. When I first arrived in Korea, I knew some hangul but I never thought to apply it in the senses you’ve just explained and only over time, did I actually catch on as to how useful it could be even if I wasn’t well-versed in Korean!

      Although I think Koreans are more tickled when they hear ‘foreign-looking’ foreigners attempt Korean. Not so much Asian looking foreigners. I get confused a lot w/ Korean or Koreans occasionally think I’m another Asian ethnicity, so I don’t always get the warm joy when I use the language and don’t speak it well. So in some cases, I actually reverted to pretending I knew less Korean than I did or pronouncing it really badly so they’d get the clue and… “Ahhhh” . LOL.

  3. guest says:

    You forgot to mention that Daiso is from Japan originally.

    • Yulia: Thanks for that contribution! Only recently after researching a possible trip to Japan did I realize that Daiso originated there! Very interesting.

  4. Conor says:

    Was concerned when I saw only six, thought you meant only six altogether! Good choices though, and none of the crusty, bucket sized ‘foreign food’ stores on sight! I remember it took me two months to find out places like smart even existed!

    As for Ashley…not sure how vegetarian they are…might need to pick and sniff a lot of their dishes first….

    • @Conor: oops, apologies for the delayed response. Oh definitely not only 6, but those 6 were the ones I visited the most. 😉 But the list is open for additions if you’ve got some good ones! True, Ashley isn’t quite full veggie, but damn, they come close to the concept ‘international salads’, like cous cous and normal vegetable dishes! I don’t know why ‘salad’ is a hard concept in Korea.

  5. Gray says:

    You are so right: As tourists, we hate to see big chain stores “ruining” the exotic beauty of whatever country we happen to be visiting, but man, when you need them for something, they’re a godsend. How fickle we are!

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