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A food court with neon signage.
Gangnam Market is finally open.
Gangnam Market

A New Asian Grocer’s Food Court Reveals a Rare Bird: Turkey Ramen

Gangnam Market wraps buzzy international snacks, dim sum, boba tea, and Portuguese egg tarts into a neat package

Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

For the last 10 months, Kenny Yang, the owner of Strings Ramen Shop, has tirelessly worked toward opening his new River West grocery store, Gangnam Market, by bringing in more Chinese, Korean, and Japanese items. Over the last few months, he’s transformed the former Urban Market space, which has morphed from a generic American grocery store into a shop where customers can pick up Korean rice cakes, honey butter potato chips, and more.

Earlier this year, Yang told Eater about his ambition to open a grocery store that could appeal to locals and a younger generation of Chicagoans, a population that desires more international flavors. His vision made Gangnam Market one of Eater Chicago’s most anticipated openings of the fall.

Changes have come in phases. But the crown jewel is the reimagined food court. Yang brought in neon light fixtures to create a new buzz around the space. He says American design is too straightforward. Yang, who owns Ken Kee Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, wants to create a destination.

A breakfast bun.
Matt Bakes serves a pineapple bun with char siu, hash brown, egg, and American cheese.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago

The food court features a collection of new restaurants created by Yang. It’s more or less dishes that Yang enjoys eating. Seven Faced Bird Ramen serves a rarity, at least in Chicago: bowls of turkey ramen (as opposed to pork-, beef-, or chicken-based broths). This isn’t a Thanksgiving gimmick; there’s also turkey karaage in nugget form. The court also has sushi and Asian taco stalls, the latter using Korean marinades in various proteins.

Yang has brought in his friend, Matthew Chiu, for a special stall. Chiu’s family founded Chinatown’s oldest bakery, Chiu Quion Bakery, a paradise for Portuguese egg tarts, morning dim sum, and more. The market will sell many of those treats along with a line of sandwiches like a pineapple bun stuffed with a hash brown patty, char siu, egg, and American cheese. There’s also a char siu platter with a sunny-side egg and rice. It’s a tribute to the 554, a classic dish served at Seven Treasures, the Cantonese restaurant that closed in August after more than four decades: “We grew up on that,” says Yang.

The char siu from Matt Bakes is slow-roasted longer than the version at Seven Treasures, and Yang points out that it’s served with a thicker and stickier soy sauce. There’s not as much need to mix all the elements, though diners are more than welcome to enjoy their plates that way.

The market channels a youthful energy from American-born Chinese Chicagoans. Yang’s hoping to bring in another friend, Henry Cai of 3 Little Pigs, sometime in 2024. Currently, Cai is busy after just launching the South Loop location of his Chinese restaurant. The two are members of the same church and played basketball together growing up.

Fans of donburi, Japanese rice bowls, can pick wagyu and even Hainanese chicken versions at Workout Rice. The food court also has a full bar and stall with coffee, and frozen boba tea drinks under the Stringria Coffee and Tea banner.

Yang says running a grocery store is demanding. There are more licenses to worry about and more city approvals are needed than at a restaurant. He and his staff had to be patient in securing a liquor license — liquor sales provide a steady source of income. Its importance can’t be underestimated when building up a customer base along a stretch of River West that sees a lot of motor traffic, but few pedestrians. Developers of Spoke, the luxury apartment building that contains the market, have been looking for a grocery store anchor. Before opening in January 2021, the space was ticketed for Treasure Island, but the mini-chain went out of business. Urban Market was next in line and promised gourmet food options, including a meat section with selections from Slagel Family Farm. They never caught traction and the pandemic proved too challenging.

Pork with sunnyside eggs over rice.
Matt Bakes inside the Gangnam Market has crafted tribute to the 554.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago
Pork over rice with fired eggs.
The original 554 from Seven Treasures was a dish that Kenny Yang loved.
Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

This opened up an opportunity for Yang who had a fountain of ideas, hoping that a focus on Asian groceries augmented with a few Mexican items would keep customers coming back. And with the help of friends like Cai and Chiu, he hopes he can redefine what Chicagoans can expect from their grocery store.

Yang says they’re still waiting on exterior signage, but this weekend they’ll host a grand opening celebration to officially launch the market’s rebirth. And Yang says he’s open-minded to trying new things in the food court. He has unused pizza ovens from the previous tenant which point to some of the future possibilities.

Gangnam Market, 1001 W. Chicago Avenue, grocery store open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Stringria Coffee & Bar open 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Market Sushi, sports bar, Seven Faced Bird Ramen, Workout Rice, Matt Bakes, and Gangnam Taco open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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