Hypermarkets and Supermarkets
Like any developed nation, Korea is full of huge scale supermarket chains that carry anything an expatriate may need. Or, at least, almost anything. Chances are you will miss a certain cheese or type of bread or pasta that you love. However, these large chains carry many things that foreigners may not expect to find abroad.
The largest chains in Korea include Tesco’s Homeplus, Emart, LotteMart and Costco. There are many other large scale supermarkets with similar “homey” names (Homever, for example), but these are the chains that will generally be found near your place of residence. Hours of operation vary according to location, but usually large chains are open 24 hours a day or from around 9AM until 11PM.
These chains carry everything from clothes and food to electronics and books. They are massive buildings, generally with three or four different floors. Usually the clothes and non-food items will be found on the upper levels while the groceries and food courts will be found on the two bottom floors. In the groceries section you will find many foods that would not normally be found in your supermarket at home. Don’t worry, though! If you keep looking through the aisles you’ll find what you’re looking for, eventually.
Canned goods, pastas and pasta sauces, bread, cheese, milk and eggs are all easily found at these chains. Also, if you enjoy baking, you’ll find baking supplies (some chains are better stocked than others, like Homeplus and Costco) that usually include nuts, food colouring, icing sugar and baking chocolate.
At Costco, you require a member card to shop. If you have membership in your home country, you can use it in Korea. If you don’t have a card the cost is 30,000 won for one year. At Costco, you can find bulk comforts of home, including baked goods and even macaroni and cheese! There are three Costco’s in Seoul. They are located in Youngdeungpo-gu,Junggye-gu, and Seocho-gu. Website (with English option): http://www.costco.co.kr/
Depending on the location (ie: if you live in an area with lots of expats), you will usually find a well stocked foreign food/baking area at Homeplus, as well as the usual fresh vegetables, fruits, clothes, toys and anything else that might tickle your fancy. While Emart is more common, you can find a Homeplus in almost all of the gus. Some gus have an Emart and a Homeplus. Website (Korean only): http://www.homeplus.co.kr/
While usually not as well stocked as Homeplus, you can find the same sections here (electronics, food, toys, etc.) and a large array of groceries in the supermarket section. You will find at least or more of these in each gu. Website (Korean only): http://emart.shinsegae.com/
Similar to Emart and Homeplus, you will find the same sections in the multilevel building. These are smaller and tend to be less common (especially if there is an Emart nearby.) However it is common to find heaps of LotteMart Express stores, which are smaller versions of a LotteMart. Website (Korean only): http://company.lottemart.com/main.jsp
Korea is host to literally thousands of convenience stores that supply Koreans and expats alike with alcohol, cigarettes, last minute grocery items, pre-made sandwiches, kimbab and every other kind of snack you can imagine.
Common Korean convenience stores include Family Mart, GS Mart, and the ubiquitous Seven Eleven. They are open 24 hours a day and are found everywhere in Seoul. Indeed, you can’t walk five meters without running into a convenience store. There are usually chairs and tables outside convenience stores where people can sit down and have drinks or eat their snacks. It’s a common sight to see people outside drinking alcohol, as these convenience stores easily become makeshift bars.