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.
There 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…
I 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.
The 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.
They 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.
They had a butcher as well as prepackage meat. The pork belly and bulgogi looked great.
To 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.
I 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!
The 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.