Winter Hill Brewing [Somerville, MA] and an ode to mom and pop Korean shops [Reliable Market; Somerville, MA]

I like to think that I’m a good Korean girl. I respect my mom and dad; moved to the 'burbs, got married and bought a house (Arlington…are we considered an exurb since I can still bike or T around town?); eventually had a kid. My default is to shop at local places with cash and to tip at restaurants in cash. However, moving to the 'burbs also meant having access to things that were previously impossible, like being within a <10 minute drive to HMart. And having a kid meant doing things out of convenience rather than sticking to my principles. In the time that moved out to Arlington (2010), I’ve witnessed the closing of at least 2 Korean mom-and-pop stores that I frequently patronized, namely Han Ah Rheum in North Cambridge and Mirim in Allston. Well, this past Sunday, after stopping into Winter Hill Brewing for a fun “snack” (Korean-tinged Brussels sprouts which were gulped down in short order; a huge basket of rosemary fries, and overflowing mac-and-cheese, not to mention some delicious and nuanced IPAs), I told B I wanted to go to Reliable Market, another old standby for me and my mom when my parents used to visit me in Boston. And I fell back in love.

It was an unfamiliar scene - the market was strangely and sadly quiet. I remember the days when the tiny aisles were jammed with young Korean college kids (I was one of them) and families. I believe someone here has posted this before (maybe @passing_thru?) - the entire front section has been given over to a beer cooler (good beers, mind you, and we bought a couple of fancy 4-packs). The back room has totally changed, too. But amidst all the change, a Korean ajumma (respectful; an older Korean lady) is still faithfully pumping out banchan (I saw her peer out). I bought kkaennip (marinated perilla leaves), one of my favorites. It’s a bit of an acquired taste. You wrap one leaf around a small ball of rice. B tried some at home and described a licorice-y taste but I don’t think so. It’s a really tough flavor to describe but Reliable’s rendition was quite good.

So, we bought a bunch of things, paid in cash and the nice older and quite chic woman at the register (is she the new owner? I didn’t recognize her and it’s just not polite to ask such things) took one look at spring onion helping to upload our basket and returning the basket to its proper place and promptly gifted him with not 1 but 4 Korean Choco-pie treats (one of my favorites as a kid). That will never happen at HMart. B, who is self-admittedly sappier than I am, stated that we should start going to Reliable over HMart. We’re frugal people but we are also in a position in our lives where price doesn’t matter to us. But patronizing the locals does. I hope you might consider doing it, too.

Edited to add: I joke (seriously) with friends that good Korean daughters and sons always feel guilty about something. We’re like the Jews or Catholics of Asia. So, I guess that means that I still qualify as a good Korean girl.

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This post makes me want to run to Reliable right now. I’ll make sure I share it with my son and daughter-in-law who have been talking about how they should head there more often. Thanks, digga!

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great post! i live in the neighborhood and often stop in just to pick up little things - bananas, garlic, ginger, tofu, etc… maybe once every other week or so. i buy my sushi rice from there in the huge bags. and also pick up beer/sake sometimes. i’d like to shop there more though as i do really like them. and that same nice lady gave my son a choco-pie! i thought it was so sweet. what else should i buy there in order to support them more regularly? i do the majority of my shopping at MB. :slight_smile: also, digga - do you happen to be in any of the local mom Facebook groups? i’m just curious if we have crossed paths in another online world. LOL.

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We have a fairly high turnover of Asian staples such as rice, rice vinegar, tamari/soy sauce, kimchee, banchan (which I just don’t have time/willpower to make), dried seaweed and mushrooms, chili powders, miso, gochujang, Japanese curry, dashi…so I have to replenish every few weeks or so. I tend to buy my fresh produce, like scallions and garlic, at Whole Foods.

Can’t give you advice about specific items to buy as I don’t know your cooking habits/pantry needs - simply continue to patronize!

And can you believe that I am not on Facebook?! The upside is that the Russians have no idea of my political leanings. If they did I think I would be nuked.

It’d be fun to meet up for a Korean food shopping/eating safari one of these days! Or any kind of food safari for that matter, a la Chowhound.

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We’re in for the eating-- I mean, outing. I never switched to H-mart since it’s not convenient for me, but I have to admit a lot of the Asian items I need to replenish are actually available at Market Basket now- we go through a lot of thai rice noodles, fish sauce, hoisin. I do love Reliable Market though and always leave with something interesting. I’ll try and keep going there.

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I think it was me that talked about the increased beer selection, though I do think it’s probably smart–they have a good selection of craft-y beers that isn’t well represented anywhere nearby. They likely do OK off the mark up!

Have always been a Reliable fan since way before H-Mart came to town. Given your plea, I’m gonna go there soon and spend some money, especially since it’s nearby. Gotta keep places like this alive.

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The last I visited Reliable Market, I saw more traffic than @digga, and the hot dishes in the back look promising. I always liked Reliable with or without the recent change; it’s nice to be able to grab a few pantry items without going all the way to Burlington. I’m sure the H-mart in Central square is taking some of the usual traffic from Cambridge as well.

I’m also guilty of being frugal, and C-mart and Ming’s in South End often is my go-to. Those stores are easier to shop for people cooking mostly Chinese dishes (me), and I found the prices are overall cheaper and produce fresher than H-mart (and sadly, Reliable). It’s a terrible quandary to choose between budget and supporting local business, and I can assure that the Asian guilt is universal and strong across all the countries.

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Beautifully said, @digga. This post is more than a post. Reading it felt like a treat.

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it’s a good thing you are not on Facebook! LOL!!!

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sooooo, I drove right by Reliable on my way home from Boston tonight. I honestly didn’t really need anything, but stopped in anyway after experiencing (for some reason–thanks @digga!) a giant wave of Catholic guilt that I live nearby and hadn’t gone in for a couple months. Ended up buying some kimbap for dinner and a bottle of soju, just to add to the neighborhood store coffers.

It was pretty lively in there on a Sunday afternoon, though–I saw a college-y type buy a twelve pack, another dude picking up wine and some prepared food, a few assorted young Korean-Americans shopping for staples and an older couple ahead of me in line that must have been hosting a party as they were picking up like 150$ worth of kimchi, seaweed and the like. Hopefully business is this good a lot! It’s a great little market to have around the corner.

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Glad to be of Korean mama service! :wink:

I’m thrilled to see the lively conversation in this thread. Hope it continues in this one and in others.

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Well, my son and I headed to Reliable yesterday for supplies to make (don’t cringe!) bulgogi steak and cheese subs. He made a gochujang sodium citrate cheese sauce and we topped them with kimchi, daikon and seasoned sprouts. (They were delicious!) We found the bulgogi to be much more like homemade than Hmart’s version, and will definitely keep it in our rotation for when a bibimbap craving hits, or we need a fix of Sam Sifton’s bulgogi sloppy joes. And I’ll have to head back soon to pick up a four-pack of the wheat and potato beer that my other son would like to sample. Thanks for the reminder!

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this was my experience with the kimbap I bought as well–it was surprisingly good and tasted fresh, with a nice red pepper-burdock-cuke-carrot-pickle filling. much better than the version I sometimes buy t H Mart.

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Bessarabsky Market, Kyiv. Ukraine
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