Monday, August 25, 2008

Lotte Plaza supermarket in Ellicott City

The best take-home dinner around waits for you at the Lotte Plaza supermarket in Ellicott City where you can create your own Korean feast.

Lotte lags behind its cousin the H Mart in Catonsville when I'm shopping for groceries, but nothing beats its prepared foods -- the best selection, the most-flexible sizes and delicious offerings.  The key difference is that Lotte sells most items by weight, so you can buy what you need and can experiment by sampling.

Start with side dishes.  Panchan are the best part of a Korean dinner -- small dishes that accompany the main course.  In the back near the fish counter, Lotte has an entire bar of panchan.  Bowls of prepared vegetables, fish cakes, tofu and other items with flavors that range from spicy to mild to fishy.  You pick up a plastic container and spoon what you want.  Then the Lotte employee puts on a top, weighs the package and prints a price sticker.  Items run from $3-7 a pound.  Next to the plastic containers are tooth picks that you can use to sample the panchan.  This is priceless because you only buy things that you enjoy.  (If you haven't had these before, I suggest sampling the juliened white radish, the green seaweed salad and one of the red-tinted spicy dishes made with cabbage or fish cakes.  But really, you should try anything because a toothpick of even the hottest Korean food should be fine.)

Next, the main course.  In the front near the vegetables, Lotte has both marinated meats and other prepared foods.  For the simplest meal, pick up a quart container of soup.  Generally, 
you can find a spicy beef soup or a seafood/tofu soup.  They're both red with peppers, so expect spicy.  Ask for help or just read the ingredients on the label to confirm what you're picking.  Reheated soup and 3-4 panchan is a spectacular, no-pot dinner.  For one step up in complexity, try the marinated beef or chicken that Lotte sells by the pound.  These are raw bulgogi and other meats.  Take what you want.  Generally there is a Lotte employee there to weigh your selection.  Also buy a head of lettuce.  (If you want authentic, ask a Lotte employee to show you the aisle for the pepper paste that goes with bulgogi.)   At home, you make rice, saute the meat in a heavy pan, then everyone makes roll-ups -- lettuce wrapped around some rice, some meat and some bulgogi paste or a hot sauce of your choice.)

But before you leave, grab dessert.  Next to the meat is a stand selling packages of small Korean sweets.  They're made with rice and sugar, and my favorites include red bean paste inside.  They look like little dumplings with a consistency like marzipan, but a clean, lightly-sweet flavor.  The stand is separate store, so you pay an employee there, not at the Lotte cash register.  Again, ask or read the ingredients on the label to know exactly what's inside.  The desserts last 2-3 days on the counter, but they get hard if you put them in the fridge.

(If the sweets don't excite you, then get your dessert at La Boulangerie Bakery, which is across the parking lot from Lotte.  Great cakes, dozens of small pastries and sweet breads.)

Click here for all the posts about Korean food.  Or check out a comprehensive list of organic and ethnic markets.  Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia offers fresh tortillas, chorizos and other makings for other great take-out dinners.  For Korean restaurants, I recommend both Shin Chon Garden in the Lotte shopping center and Mirocjo on Rte 40.

Lotte Market
8801 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: On Rte 40, just west of Rte 29. From Columbia, you go north on Rte 29 and take the Rte 40 East exit.  Stay in the left lane on the exit ramp. That takes you into the shopping center.

Lotte Plaza Oriental on Urbanspoon


Sheri said...

Oh, wow - we just found Lotte's - LOVE IT!! Had no idea there were so many different kinds of pre-made potstickers available! Playing with the live blue crabs was great fun, too!! The fruit/veggie section was excellent - too bad we were in a hurry, but believe me, we'll be back!! Still need to find mooncakes, tho...

Unknown said...

I am a vegan and live in Columbia Maryland. I want to buy bulk tofu. I am used to paying about $3.00 for a little block of tofu. I have recently found out about ethnic grocery stores and how dirt cheep they are (I currently haven't been in any ethnic grocery stores but I plan on going to one today) I want to know what ethnic store near Columbia has the cheapest vegan bulk tofu.

Unknown said...

I didn't find the Panchan. I had a hard time being near the fish section but I did look. (I almost vomited multiple times the smell is so awful) You can smell the fish throughout the entire store but it does get worse as you get closer to it. I had to avoid some isles because it was so bad. I went really close to the fish section because you said the Panchan is near there. I did find bulk tofu and was really happy with the price. I don't think that was the Panchan section though because this bulk tofu came prepackaged and there wasn't any other bulk items near it. I also got cheep soy milk and vegan soy sauce It is the closest Asian grocery store to me but h mart and super grand mart aren't far away and I am going to give them a try sometime. If none of the other stores have better stuff I think I will come here just to get bulk tofu each week. Because Asian stores prices are so cheep I would be willing to travel a little ways. If anyone knows the best Asian grocery store in the area that has bulk vegan items let me know.

HowChow said...

Nicholas -- I'd recommend you go a little farther out Rte 40 and try the new Lotte in Catonsville. It's on the way to the H Mart. The new store is enormous. It will have your bulk tofu and a lot more vegan items.

Check this link to see the new store: