Shopping for groceries in a new country can be confusing, frustrating, and a longer process than necessary. i found myself absolutely dreading my shopping trips in Korea, especially to the larger marts such as Lotte, Home Plus, and Emart. What kept me going to one of these 3 big chains was the fact that my local mart tended to be more expensive than the bigger stores. It was worth making the trip and buying in bulk rather swallowing the cost of overpriced produce. As a solo shopper, it can be stressful but if you go with a friend or your partner, shopping can be fun and you may even save money.
This blog post was written mainly to give new foreigners coming to Korea an idea of how much things cost for a weeks worth of food for two. Hopefully it will help you see what food is available in Korea (contrary to what some may think), how much it costs, and a few added tips for saving money.
- 1 kg. of chicken breasts: 6,490 (SALE)
- Bag of 5 mixed bell peppers: 1,990
- Cabernet Sauvignon Chilean wine: 6,900
- 500 mL Milk: 1,000
- 450g of plain yogurt: 1,980
- 1 zucchini: 1,000
- 500g oatmeal: 2,990
- 1 Ristorante frozen Pizza: $5,000
- 1 kg. Frozen strawberries: 8,600
- 2 carrots: 1,000
- 400 mL. Coconut Milk: 3,400
- 1 kg. Walnuts: 9,990
- package of baby tomatoes: 3,000 on sale
- half a beet: 980
- 2 heads of Broccoli: 3,900
- small package of lettuce: 2,000
- 200 g. Frozen Vegetables: 3,000
I find produce to be very expensive in Korea, aside from a few items. Vegetables that are used in Korean cuisine typically are less costly, but there are many that are surprisingly pricey! Lettuce, cabbage, carrots, beets, zucchini, sprouts, pumpkin, and onions are some of the cheaper vegetables. Sweet potatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli are some of the veggies that I find to be over-priced (that being said, I have found them for reasonable prices).
Fruit is EXPENSIVE. The only fruit that I find that is consistently cheap are bananas but other than that, ALL fruit is expensive UNLESS it is in season or you are willing to buy fruit that is beginning to go bad. I have seen a box of 10 apple pears for 60,000 won and such a sighting is not uncommon. Fruit is something you gift to people, especially the fruit packaged nicely in boxes where each individual piece has it’s own styrofoam mold for it to rest. I love fruit, so it was pretty crushing to realize that some of my favorite fruit almost became ‘un-affordable’ or at least ‘impractical’ to buy.
Pork and chicken are pretty affordable and you can often find some pretty good deals especially if you are willing to try the less desirable cuts of meat. We love chicken breast, so we usually buy the frozen 1kg. bag for under 7,000 korean won and that lasts us throughout the week. We don’t eat pork very often, but it can be priced about the same as chicken, and it is the easiest meat to come by. Beef is very expensive, especially Korean beef. Australian beef is cheaper, but you will still pay a pretty penny for it. 1 kg. of beef will cost about 29,000 depending on where it is from and how fresh it is. Seafood prices can vary in cost as well. Jonny and I only purchase white fish once in a while, but have managed to find some good white fish for about the same price as chicken for 1 kg. We love salmon and often go to HomePlus after 9:00 pm during the weekdays and wait for the sticker ladies to reduce the price of their fresh salmon. Full price can be about 7,000 for a single serving of salmon, however we will buy it when it is 50% off as a treat.
Grains and Bread
Rice is a necessity to any proper Korean meal, but even still I find it to be quite pricey here. Still, Koreans buy their rice in bulk so it may seem like a lot to pay up front, and then you realize how long it lasts! We found a nice mixed rice at HomePlus priced at 9,900 for 4.2 Kg. and it lasts us a couple of months! That being said, we have both tried to eat very little rice in our diet.
Bread on the other hand is cheap, but often sweet. The bread here is likely not what you are used to at home. It is hard to find a nice brown bread or something containing seeds and grains. White bread is easy to acquire and very cheap. You can buy a half loaf for 1,000. If you find a bakery that sells more western style freshly baked loaves, you will pay more like 6,000 for a half loaf.
I hope this helps you understand the cost of groceries in Korea a little more. It can be very expensive to cook your own meals, but it can also be cheap if you are smart and know where to look for those great deals! Remember to shop at night for perishable items if you don’t mind eating or cooking them right away. Likely they will be on sale and you will save a lot of money! Buy fruits and veg that are in season, in the end it will force you to eat other things and you can be sure that likely the fruit you enjoy will eventually be cheap and heavily available. Lastly, some things are expensive and will probably stay expensive. Avocados are VERY expensive. Good western cheese is also not the cheapest. I have never seen cherries sold for a good price, even when they are on sale. Remember that these items are just not heavily available, the diet is different here, and it cost a lot for some things to come to Korea. As long as you are flexible and creative, you can eat very well in Korea. Save those expensive items for a monthly ‘treat’, and don’t be afraid to buy something mysterious and inexpensive.