Body-Slamming for the Perfect Eggplant

Adele Levin braves the aisles of the Korean market Han Ah Reum in Wheaton for what two of her friends call
Adele Levin braves the aisles of the Korean market Han Ah Reum in Wheaton for what two of her friends call "full-contact shopping." (By Molly Hewes)
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Where we live shapes us, and we shape where we live. Here's what area residents have to say about where they live. An occasional Page Three feature.

I live in Wheaton, an outpost of ethnicities where I frequently feel like I have suddenly awakened in Southeast Asia. The closest supermarket to me, the Han Ah Reum, is not the kind of place where you can just pop in for a late-night box of Pop Tarts.

To step willingly through the doors of the Korean market, you need to gather your wits about you.

My friends Heather and Dana refer to it as "full-contact shopping," a phrase I could relate to only after getting body-slammed by another customer in front of the eggplant display my first day in there.

It's been three years now, and I still hesitate at the entrance, where packs of hunters and gatherers march aggressively through the double doors, pushing their shopping carts in front of them as if in a military convoy.

I carry a basket only because it makes me nimble enough to dart out of their way. The produce section is large and curious, with dried persimmons next to baskets of lychees, a fruit that resembles a tiny, round cactus ball.

Lychees are sweet and delicious and a favorite among the Han Ah Reum shoppers, prompting management to tack up a homemade sign: "PLEASE DO NOT EAT THE LYCHEE NUTS." This did nothing to discourage anyone, the most emboldened of whom stood defiantly next to the sign, peeling their lychee nuts and dropping the shells on the floor.

You can't, under any circumstances, select an eggplant from the top of the display and move on. You need to fist fight your way to the front and then dig frantically through the bin, examining and rejecting no less then a dozen eggplants, until you find the One.

I like to escape into the relative calm that is the dried fish and seaweed aisle. It always cheers me up as I think gleefully, "I can't believe it -- an entire aisle of dried fishes!"

A mosh pit of customers greets you at the seafood counter, unlike at the boring old Giant, where you get a number, wait in line and -- by no means -- touch other shoppers. At the Han Ah Reum, you need to jump, shove and yell to get your pound of fresh shrimp.

But I like the way the seafood department is laid out: from live to dead.

Baskets of live crabs, bubbling tanks of lobsters and beds of ice where whole salmons and red snappers lie together, eyes wide open in shock. Before I head to the checkout counter, I grab a few bottles of Pocari Sweat, an ominous-looking sports drink that resembles filmy bathtub water but actually tastes like grapefruit juice and is surprisingly refreshing.

Going biking with my Dupont Circle friends on the weekend, the bottle of Sweat always generates a few raised eyebrows, but no questions. After all, none of them is a full-contact shopper.

-- Adele Levine, Wheaton

© 2007 The Washington Post Company