Han Ah Reum

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Editorial Review

You don't need to speak Korean to decipher signs and product labels; English translations are plentiful.

Even better, overstocked shelves, bins and aisles offer many cut-rate prices and countless Asian products, from sliced deer horn and wooden Japanese sushi trays to 50-pound bags of rice and sacks of crushed mung beans.

Most inviting are stunning piles of fruits and vegetables and heaping bins of fresh fish. But every aisle holds its own treasures. You could linger over tubs of bean curd, displays of peppery kim chi (the Korean staple of pickled vegetables), and piles of soup bowls and cookware. A few Western products show up, including frozen bagels and blueberry waffles, right near frozen dumplings and fried fish cakes. Loud background music and birds flying overhead add to the atmosphere.

-- Alexandra Greeley

In one corner of the store -- the Pop Corner -- owners Suk Pyo Choi and his wife, Hae Young, operate an unusual snack concession. They make fresh, dinner-plate-sized, puffed rice cakes as well as roasted squid and roasted seaweed. But the big crunchy rice cakes are the big seller.

Choi combines brown rice with ground soybeans and water. He add an artificial sweetener. "There's no oil, salt and no calories from sugar," he says. By the gallon Choi spills this mix into a hopper atop what looks like an industrial drill press. Says Choi, "It's a special machine made in Korea."

In 1/2-cup increments the ingredients fall into a heated compression chamber. "The temperature must be just hot enough or the rice does not expand," he says. Seconds later there is a minor explosion followed by a puff of smoke and the fragrance of toasted grain. Out pops a light and uniform finished rice cake ready for packaging.

Choi's rice cakes are perfect for munching out of hand. For a party they would work well as a rustic presentation plate for mixed nuts, sliced fruit, crudites or sushi. Fill a rice cake plate with spiced shrimp. Peel a shrimp. Eat the plate. Pop Corner is closed Wednesdays.

-- Walter Nicholls