Asian supermarket adds flavour, generates buzz in Edmonton

It's described as the "Costco of Asian foods." The opening of a new Korean supermarket is creating a lot of buzz and excitement.

H Mart, specializing in Korean products, opened in south Edmonton on Thursday

The Asian supermarket H Mart opened at the South Park Shopping Centre on Thursday morning. (John Shypitka/CBC)

The opening of an Asian supermarket called H Mart in south Edmonton is creating a lot of excitement in the Korean community and beyond, as people say the store will give them more choices when it comes to selecting culturally appropriate foods. 

The U.S.-based grocery chain, specializing in Korean products, has locations in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Its Edmonton location opened Thursday morning at the South Park Shopping Centre on Calgary Trail. On opening day, the line-up stretched around the block. 

Shoppers wait to get into H Mart on its opening day in Edmonton. (John Shypitka/CBC)

"We're really happy many of our customers showed up" on opening day, said Tae Kim, H Mart's marketing manager. "Hopefully this goes well in the future and ... hopefully, it will work out for the Asian community as well,"

Kim says the new store includes a bakery and food court that serves authentic Korean cuisine. 

Nuel Han, a Korean permanent resident who lives in Edmonton, is excited about H Mart's opening because she can find all the ingredients she needs for a meal at one place. 

"It's really something that I've been missing when I came to Edmonton. I mean, there are a few small shops here and there in the south side, but having a big market where people can congregate, I just feel a sense of home," she said. 

"Food is more than just a thing that we consume, it's like a universal language. It's going to be a place where people can congregate and experience each other's culture," said Han. 

Culturally relevant foods 

Sandra Ngo is the research co-ordinator for the Edmonton Social Planning Council and co-chair for the Edmonton Food Council. She says having a supermarket that provides ethnic foods is important to create a sense of belonging for newcomers. 

"It is so meaningful to have access to culturally appropriate foods. Many newcomers aren't familiar with the foods we have available here, so increasing the diversity of food is just so important," Ngo said.

Dr. Karen Lee, an associate professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in preventative medicine and building healthy communities, says having a supermarket in the neighbourhood will also increase the wellbeing of residents. 

A lineup forms at the South Park Shopping Centre for H Mart on its opening day. (John Shypitka/CBC)

"If people are unfamiliar with foods that are being sold in a store, they might be less likely to buy them," Lee said. 

"If we have healthy fruits and vegetables [in a supermarket] and if they're also familiar to the cultures who live around the neighbourhood, that can be helpful," Lee said.

Ngo says she hopes more ethnic grocery stores will pop up in the city. 

"The hope is that we will get more grocery stores throughout the city that will be more accessible for people using public transit," she said, adding that the shopping area on the Calgary Trail is often congested and can only be accessed by car. 

"Imagine how great it would be if we had an African food store on the same scale. I think they do so much to enliven the community, look at how excited we all are."