Have you ever gone somewhere, it was a bad experience, and you never went back? That was me and Joong Boo Market circa 1995. I had just moved into my first apartment in Ravenswood (across from the infamous Diner Grill), and went into Joong Boo looking for these crazy Korean plum candies my dad loved. Every time I saw him, he would give me a full bag (and I didn’t like them), and instisted that I eat them. Fortunately, my friends liked them, so I’d pawn them off on them. When I saw this Korean Market, I planned on picking the very same candies to surprise my dad at our next visit. I don’t recall much of my first experience at Joong Boo, but I do remember being told I bought the wrong plum candies (it was the thought that counts, right?), the store was a little too chaotic  and I never wanted to go back.

Joong boo Market Grocery GalThere are so many grocery stores I had been to once, and then it took me a really long time to get back to, like Hagen’s and Supreme Lobster. However, no one can forget Joong Boo Market, aka Chicago Food Corp, because it’s smack dab off the Kennedy at Kimball. When I started Grocery Gal a little over a year ago, a coworker told me, “you have to go to Joong Boo market! I love that place!” Of course, I thought to myself, “yeah, but Super H Mart, Tai Nam and Mitsawa are sooooo much better,” and just smiled and said thanks for the suggestion, but had no intentions of going until I was scrounging for places to go to.

I needed some kimchi and other fermented vegetables, and I thought this would be as good of a time as any to give Joong Boo a second chance (albeit two decades later). The exterior hadn’t changed in as many years, why would the interior? I grabbed a cart and entered with low expectations…

Joong boo Market EntranceI know the store hadn’t changed much in twenty years, but this time was an entirely different experience. There was a nice selection of Asian vegetables, including a huge selection of organic mushrooms. There was seafood in thick, red sauces that looked interesting, but I was too afraid to commit to such a large package.

Joong boo Market Grocery Gal Organic Mushroom ChicagoJoong boo Market Grocery Gal Marinated FishThe have a decent selection of fresh fish, but I’d wouldn’t go to Joong Boo specifically for fish. I have been thinking of making a fish stock soup, where the main ingredient are good quality fish heads. What they had looked good – but I held off on buying any.

Joong boo Market Grocery Gal Fish HeadsJoong boo Market Grocery Gal Salted FishThey had oysters and clams for sale, but what was even more interesting was live conch. I had conch for the first time in Turks & Caicos last year and it’s just delicious. However, I know I would probably screw up making it myself. Oh yeah, and it’s breaded and I’m gluten free.

Joong boo Market Live Conch ChicagoThey had a butcher as well as prepackage meat. The pork belly and bulgogi looked great.

Joong boo Market Grocery Gal Pork Belly ChicagoJoong boo Market BulgokiTo my delight, they had something similar to a salad buffet of different Korean dishes. I am supposed to be eating more fermented foods, but one jar of kimchi lasts me a long time. Here was a variety of options. I picked up a container and started filling it up with pickled cucumber, radish and green onions, only to find out halfway through that each item was a separate price! When i went to pay, I sheepishly said just to charge whatever the maximum price per pound was, which in the end still wasn’t very much.

Joong Boo Market Grocery Gal KimchiI had limited time, so I didn’t peruse the housewares section of the building, or the dried goods in the aisles. One thing that did catch my eye as I was checking out was what I thought was packing peanuts, but I guess they’re more for snacking than packing. If you’ve tried their Macaroni, please let me know what they taste like!

Joong boo Market Grocery Gal MacaroniJoong boo Market Grocery Gal Korean SweetsThe prejudice I had against Joong Boo Market is now gone. Now, when I need some quick Asian fixings, I won’t have to drive as far north or east as I normally would have to. It is so conveniently located off the expressway, I could stop in here and be home in less than 10 minutes. The store was clean and had great prices. Just remember when you try the salad bar, don’t make it a mixed salad.

Joong Boo Market. 3333 North Kimball Avenue, Chicago, IL 60618. 773-478-5566. Open 7 days, 365 days a year. 9am-9pm.


I’m a sucker for a Korean Sauna. My first experience was about five years ago at Paradise Sauna, a small place on Montrose.  I’ve been hooked ever since. Yeah, you have to get naked, but it’s the perfect way to kick a cold or just relax. A few years ago King Sauna opened in Niles, and I stock up on entrance tickets whenever a Groupon is available.

Grocery Gal King Sauna H Mart

King Sauna lives up to it’s royal name

So, why am I writing about a Korean Sauna on a grocery store blog? It’s because of King Sauna that I found the Super H Mart, located off of Waukegan in Niles. H Mart is a chain of Korean grocery stores located in a handful of states in the US, with two Illinois locations, in Niles and Naperville.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

The exterior reminds me of an old Service Merchandise

Before I came across Fresh Farms‘ incredible fish department, H Mart was the place to go to for fish. You select which whole fish you want, choose from signage how you want it cleaned, and they do the rest for you. On my last visit, it was about 7pm on a Monday evening, and the fish counter looked a little deserted, but the whole hamachi was looking good.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

I’ll take a #7

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Fresh Hamachi for $1.99 a lb.

There’s more than just the whole fish options at H Mart. There’s a good selection of shrink-wrapped sashimi grade fish, some frozen options, a huge lobster section, and a ton of dried fish and fish balls. Not quite sure where I’d be using fish balls, but if I ever come across it in a recipe, I know now where to buy them.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Dried fish and fresh lobster

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Multiple varieties of fish balls

I didn’t need any fish in the whole, dried or ball variety this time. It was late, I didn’t want to cook, but I needed something to eat. H Mart has a few options for the non-cooks out there. There’s a diverse Asian-themed food court where you can eat in or take it to go.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

One of the H Mart food stalls

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Food court options. Do not eat the samples.

I’m not the most patient person in the world, so I skipped the food court and went after some prepackaged food made within H Mart. There are so many options; my only complaint is I wished they offered them in smaller portions so I could try more of a variety. This evening I grabbed some tofu cakes and pickled radish. The tofu cakes were still warm.  I’ll confess; they smelled so good in the car that I actually opened up the package and ate one during my drive home!

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Hot and prepared tofu cakes and fried zucchini

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Prepared pickled goodness… but I don’t quite know what it is

Since I was quickly assembling a meal for home, I went to grab some Kimchi. Yes, i realize I’m in a Korean grocery store so there would be a few options of Kimchi to choose from. However, I didn’t realize there were about 50 different brands of Kimchi, which also came in different vegetable options. It was late, so I grabbed an old reliable cabbage kimichi but plan on going back to try a zucchini or asparagus one next time.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Who knew Kimchi came in different veggie options?

So what about the Grocery Gal fans looking for something to cook from H Mart other than fresh fish? They have an extensive produce section with Asian-specific produce like fresh ginseng, lemongrass and lots of radishes. Almost an entire back wall is dedicated to tofu.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Lots of tofu options: regular, organic, and sprouted organic for the biggest health benefit.

However, if you plan on using the tofu in the next day or two, I highly recommend their in-house tofu. They also sell fresh soymilk in the mornings, around 10am. It must go fast or is just difficult to maintain, because they only offer a very small window on when to buy the soy milk.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Fresh tofu made in H Mart

Since H Mart is now closer to home than Tai Nam is, I find myself stocking up on my Asian sauces, oils and vinegars here. Prices are solid and there’s a great variety to choose from. The buckwheat noodle options could be a little overwhelming, but I find a nice size package perfect for my Buckwheat Noodle Salad. There’s an extensive frozen section giving people many options for potstickers and other packaged foods.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Buckwheat noodles – perfect for a cold Asian salad.

Beyond the grocery store and food court, there are a few stores within the building, like a mini mall. My favorite one to stop in is the housewares shop featuring great appliances not readily available in the US market. What kind of stuff? Cute little toaster ovens with names like Super Toasty Oven. What else? Well, you’ve got to go see yourself. And grab some tofu cakes for the ride home. Grocery Gal Super H Mart Super H Mart. 801 Civic Center Dr, Niles, IL 60714. (847) 581-1212. Open 7 days, 8am-11pm.


To say I have a love-hate relationship with Fresh Farms off of Touhy Avenue in Niles might be a little too harsh. I love everything about it. The hate comes because I really can only ever get there on a weekend when it’s pure chaos. However, this is a true one-stop international market with one of the best fresh fish selections I’ve ever seen. So you might want to do a little mediation and park as far on the outskirts of the parking lot before going in, because you’re food mind will be blown.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms International Market Niles

Park far away, take a deep breath, and grab a cart on your way in.

I decided to feature Niles’ Fresh Farms sooner than later for two reasons. The first reason is because the fish selection is just insane – quality and prices are out of this world. Thick, sushi grade wild ahi tuna steaks for $14.99 a pound? Yes, you read that right. The second was a Facebook challenge. A friend wrote he could never truly appreciate Men At Work until he could try some Vegemite. If anywhere in Chicago would have Vegemite, it had to be Fresh Farms in Niles. Grocery Gal was on the hunt!

While this Fresh Farms is a sister store of the one in Rogers Park, it’s a true international market catering to all different ethnic backgrounds. I seem to be the only person there who’s native language is English – and it’s not limited to one continent or region within the continent. It’s a true Grocery Gal store.

I first learned about Fresh Farms through a random text I received from my dad. My dad is awesome; he’s 71 going on 35, but not big in the world of texting. A picture of fresh fish appeared on my phone. A lot of fresh fish. All for sale. I replied back “Where is that??” but of course there was no response. I had to wait to get the answer in person.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms International Market Niles

Fresh fish as far as they eye can see. Turn around for more!

Fresh Farms has a great location somewhat off the Edens, which could be why it’s packed all the time. I think the Jewel across the street has felt Fresh Farms’ impact. I’ve made the mistake shopping on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and any Saturday or Sunday, but it’s still worth it. I’ll just grab a sample of wine to help me make it through the masses. If you’re able to make it during the week at all, your sanity will thank you.

You’re welcomed into Fresh Farms with an amazing, but chaotic, produce selection. It’s a true variety o produce, each appealing to the different ethnic palettes shopping there. The quality is outstanding. The prices for Grocery Gal are fair. I can’t do everyday shopping here, because I know where I can get it a little cheaper. But by no means is Fresh Farms overpriced. I usually come here for one thing: seafood. Then I grab whatever else I’m missing, along with a handful of choice finds, while I’m there.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Fire up the grill for calamari and octopus

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Oysters

My family is crazy for blue point oysters. At 75¢ each, who wouldn’t be?

There’s always a lot of samples to try, but they’re pretty strict on doling it out. There’s usually an older gentleman cooking up some fish with a lemon/garlic coating on it. They give you tips on how to cook the fish, and the quality and prices are unheard of. Afraid of a whole fish? They’ll clean it, remove the head and filet it for you, if you ask. But why waste it? The cheeks have yummy meat you’ll miss out on, but it’s ok to stay away from the fish eyes. I’ve never bought a bad piece of anything here. I get their emails that highlight weekly specials, just tempting me to come in… even on a Saturday.

Grocery Gal Chicago Fresh Farms

Oooh! Mussels on sale this week? Break out the vino and grab some fresh bread!

After making it through the produce and seafood areas, the place seems like a traditional grocery store – except each aisle is like it’s own ethnic specialty store. This is great when you have wasabi powder, jerk seasoning, olive oil and fresh ricotta all on the same grocery list. Normally, that would be 3 Grocery Gal pit stops, but at Fresh Farms I’m finding the same brands (no sacrifices here) all under one roof. Since that saves me time, I’m fine dealing with slightly more expensive produce and the crowds.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Greek cheeses made from goat and sheep milk

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Dried dates and figs from the Mediterranean and the Middle East

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Ukrainian style pierogis

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Canned clams and sardines from Spain

So on this trip I was on the hunt for Vegemite for Brian. I was on my third grocery stop for the day, so I although I was a little tired by this time,  I still zipped through the aisles in searching for Vegemite. No dice. This makes me think it either is unavailable in the Chicago area – or I missed it. But I did find some nice finds I hadn’t noticed before. In the “Croatian Section” which usually just consists of Vegeta, Ajvar and Kras wafers, I saw they also had Cedevita, the Tang-like drink I’d have every morning at my Aunt’s house.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Ready for a Croatian breakfast?

But don’t worry, my Austrian heritage is well represented, too. Milka Chocolates originally come from the Vorarlberg province of Austria, where my mom was from. The company has since been bought by Nestle and then Kraft, but I grew up with those purple cows. Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t like milk chocolate, so I’ve never been a fan of Milka. Doesn’t mean it’s not tasty to everyone else, though!

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Milka comes in pallets to Fresh Farms

Some of the other things I buy from Fresh Farms is their olive oil. They have a nice collection of Greek and Tunisian olive oils, also at unbelievable prices. It feel like the Greek brand is somehow owned by the family owning Fresh Farms; they’re always pimping it out. I love the organic one, but each time I go I still try a sample with some fresh bread, even though I already know how good it is.

Try and buy their extra-virgin olive oil

Try and buy their extra-virgin olive oil

They also have a great selection of items you don’t think of, like pot stickers and fillo dough. The fillo doughs are from the different Mediterranean regions, so you can choose which brand you prefer based on country of origin.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

So many fillo choices to choose from

Items I haven’t touched on that are also great are their bakery, butcher shop, prepared foods, deli and, well, just about everything. They have a small liquor section to pick up wines, but the beer selection has some opportunity to improve. So while they don’t carry Vegemite (I’m convinced it’s just outta stock…), it’s probably one of the best grocery stores in the entire Chicagoland area. Don’t let the crowds scare you. They’re just all on to a really good thing.

Fresh Farms International Market. 5740 W Touhy Ave, Niles, IL 60714. 847-779-7343. Open 7 days 7am-10pm. www.myfreshfarms.com

 


I’ve noticed all my posts have required all my readers to have a set of wheels to get them to the recommended Grocery Gal destination. Today’s installment can be easily reached via the Red Line at the Argyle stop, or the Broadway bus, the 145 and 146, if those are still running. It’s a tucked away market in a very busy strip mall in Chicago’s Southeast Asian neighborhood near Broadway and Argyle, and it’s called Tai Nam.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

People from all over the midwest show up at Tai Nam on the weekends. Take the el or park on side streets when you go.

I lived in Uptown for well over ten years, and it was the both the diversity and history that made the area special to me. There are many more restaurants than markets on Argyle, and I was always a little intimated grocery shopping, because I couldn’t decipher the packaging. It’s a little easier for me to figure out what’s going on when the Latin alphabet is being used.  The markets were also rather pungent upon first entering.  It wasn’t until I took an amazing hands-on Vietnamese/Thai cooking class I had with Chef Rebecca Wheeler circa 2006-ish at Wooden Spoon in Andersonville when I understood which markets I needed to go into and what I needed to buy.

For those driving to Tai Nam, don’t even attempt to park in their parking lot. Or on Broadway. Especially if it’s the weekend. It’s a mess, so either walk, take the CTA, or park on a side street and take a walk there. Make the most out of it, checking out the next outdoor Vintage Garage Chicago event, grab some lunch (Dim Sum at Furama, Thai at Thai Pastry, Pho & Vietnamese pancake at Tank Noodle/Pho 777, or sandwiches at Ba-Le), and then head on over to Tai Nam.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Sauces as far as the eye can see – and all at great prices

You can easily stock up on affordable sesame oil, Asian sauces, rice, rice noodles and canned baby corn for a perfect stir-fry at home. They also have a very busy butcher counter, live lobster and crab for a song, and self service fresh fish. The self service part still freaks me out a little; I have yet to buy some. However, the eyes always look clear, which means it’s fresh. One day, when I’m ready to take the plunge and pick my fish with tongs and put them in bag myself, instead of pointing and telling someone else to do it for me, I’ll be back. I’m just not there yet.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Self-serve fresh fish at Tai Nam market in Uptown

I have yet to purchase live lobster. $9.99 a pound seems like a ridiculously great price, but I can’t see myself steaming these guys in a big pot at home. If you’re a lobster-boiler, please send me a message and tell me if it’s really not as horrendous as it seems to be.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Live lobster for $9.99/lb.

What I DO come into Tai Nam for is fresh mint, Thai basil, lemon grass and Thai red chilies. The mint and basil are at unheard of prices. Making mint juleps? Grab a huge bag for mint for under $2. Three stalks of lemongrass for $.99! They also have pea shoots for $2 a bag and a bunch of super fresh Asian greens.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Bags and bags of fresh mint, Thai basil and many other goodies – most under $1.50 each.

What did I need Thai basil, lemongrass and fresh mint for? It’s all part of the most delicious Thai Beef Salad recipe below. I lost the recipe during a move, but the ladies at Wooden Spoon dug into their archives and emailed it to me. Check out their cooking classes, they’re always a great experience.

Yum Neua Fiery Beef Salad

Chef Rebecca Wheeler, Wooden Spoon Chicago.
Serves 4­-6 people

Dressing
2 tablespoons chopped Thai bird or Serrano chilies (about 4 chilies)
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup fresh lime juice

Salad
1 pound skirt steak
2 large stalks lemongrass, tough outer leaves discarded, lower stalk trimmed to 4 inches and finely sliced as thin as possible
1 small red onion, cut in half and finely sliced then roughly chopped to make approximately 1­inch pieces
1/2 pound small pickling cucumbers or regular cucumbers peeled and finely sliced
1 tomato cut into wedges (for garnish)
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh Thai basil
A few leaves of leafy lettuce for garnish
1/2 cup bean sprouts (optional garnish)

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and stir to dissolve palm sugar and combine. Set aside.

Let the meat come to room temperature before grilling. Dry the outside so there is no moisture and season liberally with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper on all sides. Preheat a grill or grill pan and grill the meat until it is medium rare. Allow the meat to rest before cutting about 15 to 20 minutes. Slice the meat against the grain at a 45­ degree angle in very thin slices. Slice in half again if needed so pieces are about 1 inch long, or bite size. Transfer the meat with any accumulated juices to a mixing bowl and toss with the remaining salad ingredients. Add the dressing and mix well. Let stand 15­-30 minutes before serving. Garnish a platter with the lettuce leaves and tomato wedges. Arrange the salad on top and top with bean sprouts and additional herb sprigs if desired. Serve at room temperature. If you refrigerating for use at a later time allow the salad to come to room temperature before serving.

Note: To reduce the level of spiciness, remove the seeds from the chilies or omit the chilies altogether.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Shopping for some good luck.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Sweets of the gummy variety are pretty popular.

Tai Nam Food Market. 4925 N. Broadway Street, Chicago, IL 60640. 773-275-5666.


Fresh Farms on Devon and I go way back. I’m talking previous life back. Back when I lived closer to the lake in my early Sheridan Park days. Those days it was hard to find anything decent for produce other than Whole Foods, and in doing so, you’d have to forfeit your mortgage payment for the month.

Fresh Farms is located on Devon Avenue at Rockwell, along the South Asian corridor from Ridge to California in the Rogers Park neighborhood. The storefronts along Devon offer everything from saris to buffets; spices to universal cell phones before they became commonplace. It’s a sensory overload, but please, avoid actually driving on Devon at all costs. You’ll probably break the horn on your car or wreck it trying to parallel park.

Fresh Farms

Fresh Farms, 2626 N. Devon Ave.

On Sundays long ago, I would ride my bike the almost 4 miles to get some produce. Well, let me be honest here. I would ride the 4 miles taking in the beautiful octagonal jumbo bungalows with their original stained-glass windows and tile roofs. I’d lock up my bike and head to the now-closed Ghandi restaurant for their amazing $7 Sunday buffet. Then I’d waddle across the street, belly full of samosas and sizzling hot tandoori chicken, and fill my cart with cheap, great quality produce.  Ten plus years later, the produce is still super fresh, and those bungalows are just as gorgeous.

Grocery Gal Chicago Bungalow

Jumbo octagonal Chicago style bungalow with tile roof and stained glass windows. A Rogers Park beauty.

Fast forward to present day life. After a weekend in Texas, my husband and I came home feeling blah. We might’ve caught something on the plane, but decided to try a 3 Day Juice Cleanse to make ourselves feel better. We’ve never done something like this before, but it seemed easy enough to do and, because I’m Grocery Gal, I knew just where to get the best produce at the right price. While I had options closer to my house, I wanted to write an installment on Fresh Farms, and thought this was as good of a time as any.

This market is always busy, which makes their produce extremely fresh. Nothing’s wilted here! I bought 2 pieces of ginger the size of my head, along with all the fixin’s for a 3 day juice cleanse for two (think: lots of carrots and cucumbers) for $70. They also have a good selection of regional food, such as Indian spice mixes for making your own chana masala at home. They’ve added a fresh juice bar in the last few years, too, but since I’m Grocery Gal, I do all that stuff myself. I don’t think most can do their full grocery shopping here, but if you’re needing produce and are on the north side of Chicago, make a bee line over to Fresh Farms.

At first, I had a little sticker shock coming back to Fresh Farms, but then I realized it’s still affordable. I just know where to get even better prices now. Oh, how was the juice cleanse you ask? We made it to the second day. I couldn’t handle the two hours it took to make a day’s worth of juice meals for two. But I felt great after two days and got what I wanted out of it. In the meantime, I better start making some cucumber salad since there’s still about 12 in the fridge….

Fresh Farms Int’l Market. 2626 W. Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60659. 773-764-3557. Open 7 days. Free parking.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms

Official parking signage

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms

Ginger, Ginger, Ginger!

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms

Fresh Farms’ bean selection, which includes fresh garbanzo.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms

Stockpile for 3 day juice cleanse!