It is probably no surprise that as soon as our plane’s wheels hit tarmac in Chicago, we’ve been obsessed with America’s food. It is shocking—in its plentitude, its saltiness, its portioning, its confounding lack of vegetables. Nearly two months in, I’m still weirded out that pancakes don’t come with a side salad. What’s wrong with you people? But our complaints are drowned in the ocean of variety. This is one of the benefits of living in a nation of immigrants. We can find reasonably authentic falafel, enchiladas, and ramen ALL IN ONE CITY. We can choose between going out for Ethiopian or staying in to make curry and naan. There's a store for every palate, and after years of trying to simulate Italian or Mexican flavors with soy sauce and red pepper paste, this is mind-blowing. America, do you have any idea how lucky you are?
So when we started jonesing for Korean, I was optimistic we'd be able to fix it with a single trip to the store. I was also wrong.
These days, American supermarkets have an aisle purporting to sell “Asian Foods.” They are lying. Don't encourage this behavior by giving them your money. Find an Asian grocery instead.
There are a few Asian groceries in Milwaukee. However, “Asian” covers 48 different countries with hundreds, if not thousands, of distinct regional cuisines. It’s difficult to know which you’ll find at any given store. Our initial forays turned up nothing Korean aside from a questionable jar of kimchi, made in Illinois.
But some internet digging led us to a tiny shop in south Milwaukee called Hometown Market (홈타운마케). Surrounded by familiar ingredients and brands, I instinctively started speaking Korean. The older couple running the store were surprised to hear their language issuing from some random white girl. Half an hour later, we had seen pictures of the grandkids, heard the details of their upcoming trip to Seoul, and exchanged phone numbers. We also bought one of everything. Hangeul for the win.
And what did we make with our treasure trove of ingredients? Junk food! Yes, it turns out no matter what culture you’re homesick for, you’ll miss the junk food most. We immediately whipped up some jjajangmyeon (짜장면 - black bean noodles). It was just like when we jury-rigged pizza in Chungju—more so since jjajangmyeon is about as Korean as pizza is American. It’s fake Chinese food, the go-to delivery option when Koreans feel too lazy to cook.
Hometown Market is at 3174 S. 27th Street in Milwaukee. The couple who runs it will retire June 30th, and they're planning a close-out sale for the last week of June. They have everything you need to sate your Korean junk food cravings, from tteokbokki to curry bap! Go now, and ask the proprietress about her grandkids.^^