Where to H Mart, the Asian supermarket with a much-anticipated new branch that just opened in Central Square, Cambridge.
What for King oyster mushrooms, boxes of tiny silver fish, tofu, kimchi, fresh fish, rice cakes, gochujang, many kinds of mochi, bulgogi meat, green tea Kit-Kats, fish-shaped waffles filled with ice cream, fruit platters, vegetables, prepared food, and just about any Japanese gummy candy or Korean instant ramen you can imagine — without having to drive to Burlington, where the other area H Mart is located. There’s a small food court, too, where you will find Sapporo Ramen, Go! Go! Curry!, and Paris Baguette Cafe.
The scene The store, open until midnight, is packed at 9 p.m. Blinding fluorescents shine and music blasts: Steely Dan, the Bangles, Kool & the Gang. The line for food at Go! Go! Curry! snakes over gray tile floors and curls around stands of white tables and chairs. Signs on the walls read “Ramen Sold Out.” Paris Baguette Cafe still has macarons in pastel hues, rich little caneles, and bubble teas, but the supply of faux Cronuts has been decimated. Platters of curry appear irregularly, a staffer shouting out the number of each order. The line grows; entrepreneurial types in suits, post-gym couples, and young men with knit hats and goatees shift from foot to foot. Also here: parents with sleeping babies in strollers, people in bike helmets, people with luggage, people playing hand-held video games, people with grocery carts piled high. A skinny girl in a gray cardigan with heavy glasses and red, bow-bedecked flats pulls her boyfriend and his pompadour by the hand. A Gothic Lolita floats by eating prawn chips. In the candy aisle, friends with glazed eyes giggle, indecisive. Outside in a parking lot, a small boy shares a snack with his father in the glow of their car’s headlights.
What you’re eating Whatever you can get your hands on. This might mean consuming your dessert canele a good half-hour before your chicken curry is ready — a breaded cutlet and sweet-spicy brown sauce over instantly cold rice with cabbage.
Care for a drink? An iced green tea latte with boba will keep you awake while you wait, with a hit of caffeine and sugar.
Overheard People speaking Korean, Japanese, and Mandarin. People talking about the long lines. “Number 586, enjoy!” yells a staffer, setting out a tray of sausages, curry, and rice. “I think we are the next one, because the numbers just jumped 20,” says an optimist. “I’m in a hurry, so can I just get this one?” inquires an opportunist. “It’s more like Stay! Stay! Curry!” notes a realist. On the Paris Baguette Cafe line, people debate pastries. “They don’t have pumpkin,” one man observes. “That’s good to know.” “I want to find out what those balls are,” his friend says. A staffer tells a hungry customer: “We ran out of ramen an hour ago. It’s been so busy. There was a line at 11 a.m.” Two men in suits conduct a business meeting while they wait: “Once they understand that, the [expletives] start knowing who you are and you start bringing in the big money.” “I invited you and I could easily have invited a girl!” someone tells his friend. In the aisles, heavy browsing is underway. “Oh my god, this is the best thing. I’m, like, exclusively shopping here,” one person gushes. Someone tells her friend: “Of course it’s a government coverup. These are the better noodles.” A woman with her boyfriend points to a package of ramen: “Look,” she says. “They put the Korean flag everywhere to signal that it’s ours.”
581 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge. 857-209-2747. www.hmart.comDevra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.