First, there was Lotte Market.
In 1999, the South Korean supermarket chain opened in a recycled grocery space anchoring the Golden Triangle, a modest strip mall on U.S. Route 40, near Ellicott City, Md. The Asian-focused market — strong on produce, seafood, meats, and poultry — aimed to serve northern Howard County’s growing Korean community. Quickly, the store also attracted other ethnic groups and foodies enchanted by the exotic products and multicultural ambiance.
As the Asian community expanded around Ellicott City, so did the number and diversity of ethnic stores and dining opportunities along Route 40. Today, Howard County boasts nearly 170 Korean-owned businesses, and the Korean community makes up nearly a quarter of Ellicott City’s population.
To acknowledge the community’s strong influence on the area, in December 2016, Maryland’s Department of Transportation designated the 5-mile stretch of Baltimore National Pike, from Normandy west to Turf Valley, as the Korean Way.
The Korean influence is not the only element that has made Korean Way a gastronome’s playground.
In a small strip mall in Normandy, Tigi’s Ethiopian Restaurant serves East African specialties that include a large number of vegan selections. In the same complex, C&B Deli sells Italian dishes to go, including classic hoagies, and the Turkish Family Market sells Turkish coffees, cheeses, spices, and meats. Immediately across the street, Tere’s Latin Market offers Mexican grocery items and takeout.
The area’s food scene is all about the diversity and sheer volume of opportunities.
Moving west to the Route 29 intersection, Lotte holds down the south side of The Pike, while H-Mart, another Asian market, opened a full-sized supermarket on the north side. Initially specializing in Asian foods, it also offers Indian and Hispanic items.
Known for the range and low prices of its produce and its enormous fresh seafood selection, H-Mart draws shoppers from as far as the Eastern Shore. On Saturdays, the aisles resound to the exhortations of store staff members offering samples of freshly prepared specialty items. A trip to the grocery can become a veritable Korean lunch.
Beyond St. Johns Lane, facing a fast-food drive-thru, Caspian Supermarket’s wares take some time to inspect thoroughly. Packed with Persian and Middle Eastern groceries, the shop also carries fresh produce, meats, yogurts, cheeses, and desserts. The fresh dates alone are worth a trip along the Korean Way.
Dining at Nora’s Kabob in the Village Green Shopping Center near Chatham is more than simply having a meal: It’s an expedition into traditional Mediterranean cuisine. “Our menu is a Mediterranean combination of Iranian, Greek, and Armenian,” said owner Sevi Sinanian. “The recipes are ours; mostly northern Iranian”
The pomborn kabob is the restaurant’s “star” dish. Large chunks of very tender filet are marinated in a pomegranate paste with crushed walnuts and garlic, and then grilled on an open flame. The variety of items on the platter ensures a range of tastes and textures.
Nora’s does serve delicious desserts, but it is difficult to resist taking a walk across the parking lot to Tous les Jours, the Ellicott City Korean rendering of a French patisserie. This franchise of an international Korean chain offers fresh, ready-to-order cakes, pastries, doughnuts, and Korean confections. The pastry section has samples of the nearly three dozen choices. Although the bakery does much to honor traditional French pastries, Korean versions tend to be less sweet but just as pretty.
Honey Pig, in Enchanted Forest, is the place to go for Korean barbecue. Almost strictly for carnivores, Honey Pig offers many cuts of beef and pork not usually encountered on American menus. But that is one of the charms of dining along Korean Way — menus that carry more than the usual.
Korean Barbecue (Bulgogi)
1/4 yellow onion, sliced thinly
2 green onions, chopped, dark green parts separated from white and light green parts
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon Korean red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds beef sirloin steak, cut very thin
1 teaspoon honey
Combine yellow onion, white and light green parts of green onions, soy sauce, white sugar, sesame seeds, garlic, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, ginger, and black pepper in a bowl and mix well. Add steak slices to marinade, cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir steak and marinade together in the hot skillet, adding honey to caramelize the steak, until steak is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Garnish bulgogi with green parts of green onions.