K-Mart

K-Mart

F rom the outside, it doesn’t look like much. A standard LED “open” sign shines (or doesn’t) under a conventional red awning. An asphalt apron holds three tables sharing a pair of faded umbrellas. 

But while almost everything about Whitney Food Market & Deli appears generic from the street, within it lies a cache of hidden treasures, of which the most valuable is its freshly prepared Korean menu.

The Udon ($7.99) fills about 28oz of a 32oz plastic deli container, and though the presentation isn’t particularly seductive, the eating is delicious. The broth has a strong umami taste and warms a densely folded network of doughy udon noodles laced with thin triangular cuts of Korean-style fish cake, a tofu-like substance made primarily from flour and fish amalgam surimi. Floating on the broth and caught in the noodles are densely battered but lightly fried shrimp. The batter becomes soggy in the broth and the whole is better for it.

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Another item on the menu is Kimbap, Korea’s answer to Japanese sushi. Wrapped in rice and seaweed but slightly broader and squatter than a typical Japanese-style roll, Whitney’s come filled with either ground beef and vegetables or just veggies. The ground beef option gets a sesame oil base while the veggie gets a rice vinegar base, in order to balance their respective flavor profiles. An order costs $5.50 and comes with about a dozen pieces.

For something bigger, there’s the Bibimbap ($9.99), which translates to something like “mixed rice,” a.k.a. a rice bowl filled with various veggies and meats and topped with an egg. The market’s includes cucumber, spicy zucchini, bean sprouts, cooked spinach, lettuce and ground beef or tofu, with a side of gochujang red pepper sauce much hotter and darker than regular old Tabasco. After pouring it over the dish, set your chopsticks to “blend,” and the mix’ll be complete.

A different sort of tongue twister is the Kimchi Bokkeumbap, a.k.a. kimchi fried rice ($6.50). Its thick, sticky, spicy rice, topped with a yolk-leaking egg, makes an excellent lunch.

The three-year-old kitchen and store is owned and operated by Korean-born Jaeyoung Choi. Though she puts in long hours, typically working from open ’til close—9 a.m. to 9 p.m.—she manages to stay friendly. And while she also serves western-style sandwiches and melts, Choi actively encourages visitors to try the Korean half of the menu.

But she’s not a zealot by any stretch, and besides the thoroughly Eastern and Western dishes there are some fusion options, including Korean Tacos (three for $7.50) and a Korean Burrito ($6.50), which can come with beef, chicken or spicy pork. Choi says the spicy pork burrito is a particularly hot seller with the “young guys.”

There are a few endearing language mistakes to be found on the menu, such as “spicy” written as “soicy” and the unappetizing sandwich name “Pastrami Nightmare,” which is no longer offered. Indeed, the offerings and pricings seem to have undergone some change since the menus first printed, but Choi’s homey cooking style and personality make the whiteout-worthy moments charming and funny, not off-putting.

Like the menu, the market’s grocery section has several interesting odds and ends. The shelves, or rather the large wooden cabinets, are generally stocked with quality brands like Terra Chips and Justin’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. But a few unexpected brands pop up next to familiar ones. Near some Hellmann’s mayo stand some vase-shaped tubes of Kenko Mayonnaise, manufactured in Japan. Next to the Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar are bottles of Vietnamese Three Crab Fish Sauce. And among the cleaning supplies and other miscellany is a stash of tan Korean stockings, all sized large.

Whitney Food Market also stocks a diverse selection of instant noodles, and when I brought a tower of five or six packets of my favorite Shin Ramyun brand to the counter, Choi divulged an alternative preparation method to try at home. Instead of leaving the water in, she advised me to strain it out, then add the spice packet and an off-book ingredient: butter. Then, leaning over the counter a bit, Choi confides in me her adult son’s favorite, final ingredient: a bottle of beer on the side.

Having tried it, I think I may have a new favorite way to eat instant ramen, in addition to a good place to buy it.

Whitney Food Market & Deli
374-376 Whitney Ave, New Haven (map)
Mon-Sat 9am-9pm
(203) 781-0060

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

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