Saturday, December 15, 2007

Zion Market - Irvine

Where once there were jars of pickles, there are jugs of kimchi. There aren't anymore blocks of cheese, just blocks of tofu.

The sacks of kibble are gone, replaced by sacks of rice. The deli section is now a kimbap prep station. And the cartons of Häagen-Dazs? Well they're still there, but next to it are boxes of mochi ice cream.

What was the only Vons in Irvine is history. Taking over its expansive digs is a spanking new Korean supermarket called Zion, which can rightly claim the crown as the biggest Asian grocer in town.

Step aside 99 Ranch on Culver.

However, from the looks of things, the Zion Market folks haven't quite figured out what to do with all that room. Yes, the aisles are overstocked with everything a Korean housewife could ever want. Yes, the freezers are crammed with more varieties of dumplings than a Korean college student will ever know what to do with.

But the prepared foods department is still struggling to think of items to cook up to line its shelves or showcase in the sparsely populated island refrigerators. It's a futile effort though, since so far there aren't enough customers, and yup, too much excess space. Methinks it might be easier to fill up a swimming pool with a soda straw.

What was present did look good. There were squid, octopus, and other sea creatures covered in a deadly red chili paste. Fried anchovies glistened with a caramel glaze. In plastic boxes were steamed veggies exotic and familiar; some as black as tar; others greener than emeralds.

I picked up a few other items for dinner. First there was mung bean pancakes ($3.59) which looked tasty enough under the heat lamps, but were in need of salt when I got home to eat it. Inside its chewy, dense batter was rebar in the form of bean sprouts and roughly julienned stalks of scallion.

Zion's vermicelli noodles ($3.74) were greasy with too much sesame oil. As I felt the nutty lube coat my mouth, I bet even a sesame-oil-loving-Korean would think this was too heavy-handed to enjoy. It distracted from the salty bits of beef and the jelly jiggle of the clear noodles.

Just right were the soy-seasoned hard-boiled eggs ($1.54). Permeated to the yolk with soy sauce, it was good enough to eat by itself. And of course, Vons never dreamed of stocking anything like it.

Zion Market
4800 Irvine Blvd.
Irvine, CA 92620


At 9:17 AM, Blogger 冬冬 said...

Zion definitely has a lot of things that are cheaper than 99. However, one thing I absolutely hate about Zion is that most of their signs are in Korean. If you go to 99 Ranch or Mitsuwa, they would have English translation on the signs. This makes a non-korean like myself extremely uncomfortable when going there.

Also, it's quite dangerous for them as they can be sued easily for not putting up English signs!

At 1:48 PM, Blogger dumplings said...


You should definitely get bakery from Paris Baguette. I'm not sure what the hours work there, but sometimes if you are lucky, they will have fresh baked red bean dough nut balls and other Korean bakery.

At 5:09 PM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hey Elmo - Zion is the largest Korean Market here in San Diego. It's interesting to see them expand to OC...usually it's the other way around.

At 1:01 AM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Hmm... I hope this doesn't spell trouble for Han's Market in Heritage Plaza. Thus far, the little mom & pop has been the only game in town for Korean groceries.

At 9:54 AM, Blogger Nguyen Duong said...

awesome. gonna have to see if they have those spicy pickled cucumbers that i get at kaju soft tofu house. those are the best with a bowl of hot steamed white rice.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger unfrostedpoptart said...

I just found this place yesterday. I guess the Vons turned into our new Pavilions. Very cool store, but I couple of things:

First, why is it called Zion? How is that a Korean name?

Also, I almost couldn't believe the cart selling food in front: Peanut-Butter Squid?!?!?

At 4:19 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I know what you mean about the English signage. Very frustrating indeed. A pack of udon I got also doesn't have English directions. That's not Zion's fault, but still, it'll be interesting when I get around to cooking it. Let's see how dumb I really am at boiling noodles! HAHA!


So is Paris Baguette going to sell Vietnamese banh mis? That was my first guess, but then I thought: this is a Korean store.


Ah, but other good things have come upward from you INSERT-NAME-ertos joints and their carne asada burritos!


I was thinking the same thing. I hope Han's does okay. This is the equivalent of a WalMart coming to town.


They do! I saw it with my own eyes!


Well, you got me. Maybe the store owner's are real big fans of the Matrix movies? I doubt they are Hebrew. If anyone knows please enlighten us.

So, I am guessing you didn't try the peanut butter squid?

At 5:27 PM, Blogger Ed said...

I would attribute the Zion moniker to the rising trend of Christianity in South Korea today - after the Philippines, it has the second highest percentage of Christians in Asia.

At 5:34 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


That's a good explanation. Especially telling since if you Google "Zion" with "Korean", you get a lot of hits for Korean Christian churches.

At 9:29 PM, Blogger dumplings said...

I think you were thinking of Mr. Baguette? I'm not sure if this is the same as the Paris Baguette franchise located in the States.

At 12:16 AM, Blogger digkv said...

Elmo what are you doing eating at supermarkets when you should be grilling up Kobe beef and skirt steak at Tsuruhashi?! Ha, I'm only joking though. Thanks for the post on Zion I'll probably check it out during Winter quarter: there's nothing better than a brand new Asian supermarket because it's actually clean.

At 7:54 PM, Blogger Kathy YL Chan said...

A Kim Bap station??!! Man, NYC would use a Zion...and a 99 Ranch! hehe, only thing is...I don't know where they would find place to put one in the city! :)

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Marvin said...

Elmo, even with the foods you don't like so much you still take the time to give them such wonderful descriptions. That's one of the reasons I like reading you.

That sounded weird.

At 10:20 PM, Blogger polar said...

hey MM,

The mung bean pancakes are always done bland - you usually amp it up w/ some soy sauce. Heck, if i got the soy seasoned egged, I'd used THAT soy to dip it. And of course, I never had any better than my mom's. The clear vemicelli noodles are called Japchae. ( ) i never eat those cold. Always have them piping hot, esp the market bought ones.

At 9:26 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Yes, they are definitely different brands. I'll have to check out Paris Baguette and ask them if they do banh mi...because even Koreans should love it!


HAHA! That's a good point. Better get there quick. Zion's spotless right now!


I'm sure there's still some room available at Time Warner Center!


That did sound weird. But it's still nice of you to say anyway!


Dude, it's like you just showed me a secret level in a video game I've been playing for years.

I didn't know until now that japchae is supposed to be eaten hot. As banchan in Korean restaurants, it's always cold.

How wrong I was.

And you're right, I could've use the soy sauce from the egg (which was awesome, by the way) as dipping for the mung bean pancake.

I did crisp them up in my toaster oven though (along with a sprinkle of salt), before I ate them. They were yummy after that.

At 8:44 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Tony Bourdain has on his show...except this time it's "steer" not "deer".

At 4:19 PM, Blogger Nguyen Duong said...

been hitting this place up weekly now. the seasoned cucumbers are alright. not as crunchy and fresh as the ones at kaju. i highly recommend the spicy squid and the seasoned fish cakes. great sides to go with a bowl of steamed rice.

At 5:04 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I bet! Still afraid of the raw squid banchan though. It *is* raw, isn't it?

At 2:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live right next to it, so it's now a convenient place to pick up some last-minute side dishes for dinner. One thing I must comment about it is that it way too Korean-ized. Being Chinese, I stepped into a whirring confusion of ahjumma's calling out in Korean. Organization is another element Zion should work on. I was looking for a jar of peanut butter for 10 or so minutes - and found out that they only sold Skippy WITH peanut chunks. Quite inconvenient since I was looking for the creamy kind, so yeah, variety's another thing.

At 12:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With a high gas price nowday, save yourself a trip to the market and order online. I found this Asian Spice Store online Check it out.


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