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Grocery Shopping-Western and Asian Food Products

Western and other international foods are available in a growing number of restaurants and stores. Although most of the Western options available in supermarkets and shops are from the United States, the number of European and South American products on stores shelves is increasing.  Asian foods can be found in specialty stores in various areas of Seoul and around Korea, especially in areas where there are factories employing workers from other Asian countries, such as Itaewon in Seoul,  Asan in Gyeonggi-do, etc. 

Deli Meats and Products have been gaining in popularity in Korea. At one time, the market was dominated by hotels with a small selection of  imported products. Various deli meats, pickles, etc. can be found in specialty stores in various areas.
Produce (vegetables and fruit) that is not indigenous to Korea can also be found in ever increasing varieties. However, the cost can be quite high, even for those that are grown in Korea and not imported – especially if they have traditionally been part of the local diet (broccoli, green beans, cauliflower for example). Some things that are quite common around the world are rare or not available in Korea (fresh snow peas, wax beans, Bartlett pears, etc.)  If you like to grow your own vegetables and will have space to do so, you can bring some seeds with you. Things do change quickly in Korea and new products are regularly introduced. You can go on our Forum to find out about the availability of a specific fruit or vegetable. 
Rice is expensive in Korea - three to five times more than most countries – since the market is protected. You can, however, find varieties other than the traditional Korean sticky rice in some of the foreign (and even some of the big Korean) supermarkets. Imports such as Thai, Basmati or Jasmin rice are generally not more expensive than the Korea variety.

Meat is costly, especially Korean beef (hanu-한우). However, Koreans are very particular about their beef and strictly regulate beef imports. Most meats you are used to are probably available here, but some cuts may not be. Certain western-style cuts of chops and steaks cut can be hard or even impossible to find. However, as more Koreans come back from living/studying abroad, that is changing to some extent. Beef (soup) bones are expensive in Korea. 

Note: in 2008, there were large demonstrations by some Koreans opposing the re-introduction of US beef (stopped earlier following diagnosis of some animals from North America with Mad Cow Disease). However, U.S. beef (Miguk 미국 소고기) can now be found in most supermarket/grocery stores.
Canadian beef (캐나다 쇠고기) was also banned for a number of years but is now accepted in Korea. The outbreak of hoof & mouth disease in Korea in late 2010-early 2011 had an impact on the price and availability of locally-produced beef and pork. Restaurants and stores are required to post the country source of meat, but the media has reported on a number of cases where less expensive imported meat has been labeled Korean and sold at the higher price. Beef imported from Australia (hoju -호주 쇠고기) became even more popular during the US beef ban.  

Chickens are found everywhere, but are smaller than North American varieties and are cut differently. Chicken livers, gizzards, etc. are near to impossible to find. Turkeys are not usually stocked in Korean supermarkets, but around end November (American Thanksgiving) they can be found in some of the foreign and large supermarkets. They will usually be frozen and cost around three times more than you may be used to.
Fish and Seafood are plentiful and can be purchased fresh (alive) or not in fish markets and even supermarkets. As with most Asians, Koreans prefer to buy the whole fish completed with head and bones, but it is possible to get them de-boned or even filleted in many supermarkets. Many supermarkets do also have a variety of frozen ready-to-use fish and seafood.
Processed foods are increasingly available in Korea, including dry cereals, pastas, sauces, soups, sweets, etc. Some expats find that bread, snacks, dry cereals, pasta sauces, etc. in Korea taste sweeter than their home products (may be that more sugar is added here). However, an ever increasing number of European and other Asian products can be found here.
Spices and Herbs, fresh and dried, are available here, but the range of options may be narrow compared to your home country. Basil, cinnamon, oregano, ginger, etc. are easily found. The foreign supermarkets has an increasingly variety of spices and herbs especially other Asian spices. But if you have any favorites from your home-country bring a supply, just in case. If you like fresh herbs, you may want to bring seeds with you and grow your own.
Western and other ethnic restaurants are growing in number and improving in quality as more and more Koreans are traveling and/or living abroad.  It is also now possible for foreign residents to own restaurants and an increasing number of foreign-owned businesses can be found, especially in Seoul. 
K4E Editor: Korea4Expats want to provide the most complete and accurate information possible, so if you notice any errors or omissions in the content above please let us know at

Image Source - Garak Fish Market, Seoul

Last Updated on 2016-07-27

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