How can you travel the world so much and not know what rambutan is?
July 6, 2019 6:28 AM   Subscribe

“The secret museum in every city is a grocery store. It’s where you can grab and squeeze and not-at-all-weirdly smell indigenous produce. The fishmonger runs an aquarium. The butcher is a zookeeper. But groceries also hoard the culture’s guilty pleasures — its Netflix-and-chill snacks are in its potato-chip flavors (my native London favorite was a packet of sea-salt-and-Chardonnay-wine-vinegar crisps, and Marmite ones always hit the spot, too).”
The Best Way to Tour a City Is Through Its Grocery Store
posted by Vesihiisi (127 comments total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
 
Similarly, one of the creators on YouTube that I often watch is Strictly Dumpling, who often visits fancy exotic Asian convenience stores (exotic to we English speakers from Western countries anyhow) to sample their prepared food.
posted by kalessin at 6:39 AM on July 6 [10 favorites]


This has always been my favourite part of travel. Screw your monuments and galleries and museums, I want to go to the supermarket.
posted by terretu at 7:33 AM on July 6 [44 favorites]


Last time I saw Henry Rollins speak he talked about how he always starts his visit to a new city at the farmers market / central bazaar. Because you learn so much seeing what fresh foods people eat.

Also, fresh foods, usually cheap.
posted by COD at 7:36 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]


This is how, several years ago in Stockholm, my wife and I sat down to a Thanksgiving meal composed entirely of things squeezed out of toothpaste tubes. no regrets
posted by phooky at 7:40 AM on July 6 [47 favorites]


Two best things you can do on a trip are figure out what and where the locals eat, and then never tell anyone.
posted by mhoye at 7:41 AM on July 6 [14 favorites]


Pics of the Mandai in Pune, my native city: exterior, interior

Most Indian markets when I was growing up were like the above: small local vendors would congregate to sell their wares in a large shared space. It wasn't just a farmers' market, it was often the only market.

Of course, places like this are now getting rapidly replaced by conventional American-style supermarkets. Small vendors are going out of business, being replaced by large corporate chains with ruthlessly efficient supply chains.
posted by splitpeasoup at 7:46 AM on July 6 [8 favorites]


Out of curiosity I bought and tried to prepare a banana blossom. The grocer explained that you shred the heart and stir fry it. Got it, I thought, kinda like an artichoke or a large bamboo shoot. What they didn’t explain is that you have to painstakingly remove a part of the of the matchbook-like banana florets that have all the astringency of an unripe banana concentrated in each match. I have never tasted anything so astringent and hope to never again. Like 10 times an unripe persimmon or 100 times an unripe banana. The proper procedure is laborious and after watching videos, I’m not quite sure I get it completely. Don’t think I’ll risk it again.
posted by sjswitzer at 7:49 AM on July 6 [7 favorites]


Being somewhat picky even in my local semisuburban New England shops I can imagine almost starving due to confusion and rampant indecision at the most incredibly delicious high quality Korean market.
posted by sammyo at 7:49 AM on July 6 [10 favorites]


As a kid i camped with my parents all over Europe, especially eastern europe. A lot of supermarket stops for the making of Sandwiches: As the kid i was the one slowed to choose really funky cheeses and insane chips. Cold tea drinks go from bitter to impossibly sweet as you go east.

As an adult i lived a few years in china. I loved shopping at my local Carrefour (middle class Chinese target): What is this vegetable? Why is it violet? A carrot? A potato? Who knows, let's try it? Why are there 20 types of soy souce? Let's try them all (current favourite: Thick soy sauce with mushrooms)
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 7:51 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]


My partner and I both travel a good bit for work and for life, and our rule is that if we haven't gone grocery shopping and haven't ridden public transit, we haven't actually visited the place.
posted by solotoro at 7:56 AM on July 6 [50 favorites]


Now the rambutan... I just can’t convince my brain not to expect them to taste like lychees. They do not. I’m sure they’re great, but I can’t get past that mental block. They’re surprisingly (to me) earthy, like walnuts. And unlike my kids, I like walnuts.
posted by sjswitzer at 7:57 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]


It's easy to forget that as recently as 30 years ago (the 80s) here in the US you could take a road trip and visit local grocery stores and find all kinds of regional sodas and regional snacks, indigenous to where you were, and unable to be found anywhere else. This kind of tourism used to be a part of the great tapestry of this gigantic country. But the ensuing decades have resulted in assimilation and loss to such a scale, it's nearly impossible to walk into a corner store anywhere here and not find all the exact same things you find everywhere. To find something you've never seen before is flummoxing now, whereas before it was expected and exciting.
posted by hippybear at 8:01 AM on July 6 [55 favorites]


I stopped at an Irma in Copenhagen my second day there. I bought a stack of pre-sliced, refrigerated, plastic-sealed cheese that I assumed would be about as innocuous as pre-sliced refrigerated supermarket cheeses from America. Mistake. That was the foulest-smelling foodstuff I've ever encountered. I learned to be very careful with Danish cheeses. Some of them are made to punch you in the jaw and throw you out the nearest window.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 8:08 AM on July 6 [23 favorites]


30 years ago, we hosted a Chinese college student. His reaction to the grocery store was was amazement.
posted by theora55 at 8:08 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Also, Denmark had one of the weirdest things ever: unflavored Doritos. Like, just the fucking corn chips with no flavoring. That was some twilight zone shit.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 8:10 AM on July 6 [31 favorites]


As usual I feel really lucky to live in a sizeable metro area with plenty of "international" supermarkets. Giant Grocery is depressing.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:11 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Also, Denmark had one of the weirdest things ever: unflavored Doritos. Like, just the fucking corn chips with no flavoring. That was some twilight zone shit.

I'm willing to bet they are on the shelves of your local grocery store. My tiny town of 10K people has 3 grocery stores and plain Doritos are available at each of them.
posted by hippybear at 8:15 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Going to local grocery stores is one of the best parts of any trip abroad. I remember going to a Bonus in Iceland and being shocked at how small the produce section was. And the prices! It was a little room at the back of the store. But they had a whole cold room that they kept milk and stuff in. The fact that most (all?) of the soap, laundry detergent, etc. was imported from Ireland or the UK with an Icelandic sticker slapped on it, because the domestic market is too small to make Icelandic versions.
posted by Automocar at 8:22 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


If you're bemoaning the homogenization of American soda, may I share the good news of my buddies Cel-ray and Manhattan Special
posted by phooky at 8:22 AM on July 6 [14 favorites]


This has always been my favourite part of travel. Screw your monuments and galleries and museums, I want to go to the supermarket.

OMG this. I feel like such a dork, but this is totally how I am.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:23 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]


Also, Denmark had one of the weirdest things ever: unflavored Doritos. Like, just the fucking corn chips with no flavoring. That was some twilight zone shit.

That... doesn't seem that weird to me? They're just tortilla chips? Of the kind you can buy in any American grocery store? It doesn't surprise me that the big corn chip brand sells them in Europe because they have the name recognition.
posted by Automocar at 8:24 AM on July 6 [9 favorites]


Growing up, the few times I traveled, I became convinced I hated traveling. Rest stops, cars, planes, boredom, stress, and always always always another scheduled item to arrive at. Turns out, my family was just bad at it.

Always going places is terrible. Being places is amazing. Local groceries, new foods. Local restaurants and pubs. New people that you actually have time to talk to. Places not in the tourist district. What an amazing world!
posted by cowcowgrasstree at 8:26 AM on July 6 [10 favorites]


I feel vindicated.

I have sent this link to my wife, who I am sure will now see the light.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:28 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]


just the fucking corn chips with no flavoring

Doritos didn't have any flavoring when they were launched, they were just tortilla chips.

I still get annoyed by supermarket corn chips in the US, because most of the time they don't seem to be made out of real masa tortillas, just pressed and fried corn byproducts (like Fritos).
posted by aspersioncast at 8:31 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


If you want to know the (foreign or domestic) city and meet the people, not just farmer’s markets but flea markets. (Although, ime, particularly in Europe, for some reason, watch out for pickpockets.)
posted by sudogeek at 8:47 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


I still get annoyed by supermarket corn chips in the US, because most of the time they don't seem to be made out of real masa tortillas, just pressed and fried corn byproducts (like Fritos).

Is this one of those situations where I’ve always been lucky enough to live in coastal states?
posted by mikesch at 8:58 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Corn chips are not tortilla chips. Many places in which I have lived have both in the chip aisle. Tortilla chips seem to be more regional branded, though. I think because they go off/stale more quickly because reasons.
posted by hippybear at 9:00 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Screw your monuments and galleries and museums, I want to go to the supermarket.

I am basically a terrible tourist. I will go to a museum when I have to, but I really love going to totally ordinary places like supermarkets or old-school markets (like the photo splitpeasoup linked from Pune), the local laundromat, etc. My absolute favorite is when I can arrange a visit to local infrastructure with the people who manage it -- water treatment plants, municipal bus repair depots, sewage substations -- those places are my tourist crack.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:13 AM on July 6 [11 favorites]


The best travel experiences, and thus the places I remember the fondest, all came about less as sightseeing excursions, but from actually trying to live in a place for a few weeks or more. When you've exhausted the things to "do", the real travel starts happening.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 9:34 AM on July 6 [7 favorites]


I had the utter opposite of this when I went to Valletta in Malta, which was absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful and different to England (polished marble squares and palm trees and built up like a citadel over the harbour), but the only self-service supermarket in the old town sold food imported from Waitrose, the quintessentially middle-English supermarket.

It was definitely one of those moments where I'd have loved to have had a less restrictive diet, particularly with reference to actually going to bakeries and the like.
posted by ambrosen at 9:37 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


I love going to supermarkets but I always rue the fact most of my travelling is for work and I don't usually get service apartments and I don't stay more than 3 days. Holidays with my bestie is great because we both love market-crawling and even better when we have a kitchen to go back and cook.
posted by cendawanita at 9:50 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]


I love supermarkets, especially whatever wall of tinned obsessions they have in that country. The wall of fish products in Norway was just overwhelming. And often vaguely horrifying. Also not entirely sure why you would also stock dog beer nearby but am sure it makes sense somehow.

US cereal aisles are also the best. As are Irish biscuit aisles when I go home. I feel like Tescos in Ballyfermot has no competitors there.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:02 AM on July 6 [9 favorites]


I'm not a very seasoned traveler (I've only ever been to 3 countries other than the US) however, the snack isle in the local minimart has always been amazing to me. The assortment, colors, and types of snacks are usually awe inspiring. S. Africa had the hands down best imho, very colorful.
posted by evilDoug at 10:07 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


I agree with this completely, although the local drugstore is also an essential stop.
posted by rpfields at 10:25 AM on July 6 [7 favorites]


I clicked on this expecting to happily agree with everyone, and that happened, but the article was full of lovely surprises. Thanks for posting it.

Ages ago, my ex and I went holidaying, going first to Hautes Provence to visit my family, then down to the beach for a few days, and then on to Italy to visit the Milan fair which was in September back then. In many ways, it was a failed trip. But I clearly remember the day we went from France to Italy by train. The train runs along the coast and the views are spectacular. Then, after Menton, there is sort of a big rock jutting out into the sea that you have to go round before you enter Italy, so the view is blocked until you are there. It was like in The Wizard of Oz when it changes from B/W to color, everything became better and brighter and even smelled better. I'll never forget it. We had decided to stay over in Ventimiglia, and went directly from the station to the market to see and enjoy all the wonderful produce. It was paradise. Since then I have always still liked France and French cuisine, but I love Italy. Even though the holiday went back to failed when we arrived in Milan.
posted by mumimor at 10:29 AM on July 6 [6 favorites]


Am I missing something? I thought "Netflix-and-chill" was a euphemism to replace the old "come up and see my etchings". Like, doesn't it just mean "no we aren't actually watching anything: we're just having sex"?
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 10:44 AM on July 6 [9 favorites]


On my way to work (ugh!) but I wish I had time write about grocery shopping outside Suva on Viti Levu, Fiji, in 1989. Maybe later?
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 10:46 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


In Buenos Aires, there is an entire section of dulce de leche (basically a caramel spread) that looks exactly like the peanut butter section in the US or Canada - the same wide variety of brands and variations, jars up to the multi pound size. It's heaven.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:53 AM on July 6 [8 favorites]


Even if we have nowhere to prepare anything and can only buy a few snacks, my mom and I always go to grocery stores when we travel. Just to see. Even American grocery stores are different enough from Canadian ones that they are fun to visit: behold the tourist in her unnatural habitat, struck dumb by the sheer variety of yogurt on offer.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:54 AM on July 6 [8 favorites]


I was happy to see “all-dressed” chips and Coffee Crisps in the vending machine at Pearson Airport. Regional/international* differences in junk food are thrilling to me, also!

*not Canadian
posted by 41swans at 10:57 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]


My local super(?)market has I don't know how many varieties of unflavored tortilla chips; one brand alone makes yellow, white, or blue corn unflavored chips. They also make beet flavored red chips. I have occasionally considered lurking in that aisle to see who could possibly be buying those, but maybe it's only people who want a maximally colorful nacho plate, so I'm letting the mystery be — for now.
posted by jamjam at 11:15 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Once you've explored the supermarket for a bit, try and find the "American Import" section of the store for a good chuckle.

Spoiler alert: SUGAR. IT'S ALL SUGAR
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:20 AM on July 6 [9 favorites]


One of my favorite moments from my first trip to Japan was doing laundry in a tiny laundromat where the available reading material was gay porn manga. So my traveling companion and I sat with a couple of old ladies on a rainy day, doing our laundry and leafing through porn. Sorry, not a grocery store....
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:33 AM on July 6 [14 favorites]


I recently moved from West to East L.A. and it's still true — both on produce/meat and snack foods etc — despite the complaints about the homogenization of supermarkets overall also being true.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:41 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I remember my amazement when first moving to Germany, all the novel foodstuffs and packaging! Wieners in glass jars, mustard in toothpaste tubes, rainbow-coloured hard boiled eggs, white asaparagus the size of a baby‘s arm! Also hilarious is the „American“ interpretation of US foods, like wholly assembled microwaveable Cheeseburgers complete with brand names like McKennedy and plastered with Stars and Stripes. An eye opener for sure.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 11:41 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]


Are the superficially Germanic brands and products we get Stateside equally risible compared to the real thing?

I guess a bratwurst is a bratwurst, Freud aside.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:46 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Back in the days before the internet made research so easy, My go to plans for exploring an unknown city were go for a walk in the botanical garden and the university, check out the big libraries, and hit the grocery stores, book stores, and and bus and trains.
posted by Bee'sWing at 11:55 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]


I'm still kicking myself for thinking I could get that package of green almonds from the produce stand in Berlin on my last, more free day there. They were all gone by the time that rolled around. The varieties of Turkish food and ingredients was also cool to see. And comparing local groceries with what was obviously the high-end everything-organic store was also fun.
posted by pykrete jungle at 12:31 PM on July 6


Japanese grocery: 132 kinds of tofu, 27 unrecognizable (to me) vegetables, fruit wrapped like it was made out of porcelain and a dozen small plastic-wrapped foam trays with just three sticks of asparagus on each one. Apparently asparagus is expensive AF in Japan.
posted by pangolin party at 12:33 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]


Les Cadbury’s Fingres

I thought "Netflix-and-chill" was a euphemism to replace the old "come up and see my etchings". Like, doesn't it just mean "no we aren't actually watching anything: we're just having sex"?

Yeah but after that you eat Co-op Sea Salt & Chardonnay Vinegar crisps...my cat says
posted by billiebee at 12:37 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]


While my traveling partner was getting over food poisoning in France, I subsisted on cheap wine and Apéricubes, little individually wrapped flavored cheese cubes. I was a victim of marketing.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:44 PM on July 6 [7 favorites]


a dozen small plastic-wrapped foam trays with just three sticks of asparagus on each one.

And, there is a special place at the front of the store where you can recycle those plastic trays.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:04 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


I think that there's a definite vegetarian tendency to hit up supermarkets while traveling. You get yourself some hummous and some kind of cracker or flatbread, or cheese and nuts, and when you find yourself in a place where they don't understand why you won't eat the fish they keep offering you at least you won't go to bed hungry.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:10 PM on July 6 [11 favorites]


Oh my yes, I do this every time I visit a foreign country.

For me, visiting another country's grocery store turns up my intensity of wonder and feeling out-of-place, feelings which I actually embrace as part of the reason for traveling. The feeling of cultural disconnect is very enjoyable to me.

Not everyone feels the same way: A few years ago I was on a work trip to Amsterdam, a city I know from previous visits, and was taking a colleague from work on a walking tour that included a large Albert Heijn supermarket. He did *not* get why I was taking him there, and that particular stop on the tour didn't last long.

On a recent visit to Stockholm I had time to myself and took the metro to a remote stop not frequented by tourists, just so I could wander around a large supermarket. I love how a cereal aisle can cause cognitive dissonance and there's no quicker path to a cultural insight than seeing a dozen types of muesli and oat milk on the shelves.

Seriously guys, the Swedes really love their oat milks.
posted by jeremias at 1:25 PM on July 6 [8 favorites]


hah, meaty shoe puppet! my first thought on seeing this post was, "i feel validated!"
(a little different from vindicated, but we landed on a hecka similar note.)

i have long told disbelieving friends that the Monoprix is just as interesting as the Louvre, and that they should always visit the markets while traveling. but i also feel so lucky to live in San Francisco, where i can travel vicariously simply by choosing the neighborhood in which to shop - Russian candies in the avenues, pan dulce and hot sauce in the Mission, bean cakes and seaweed in Japantown, and the wonders of Chinese markets, etc!

though of course, when traveling, the exploration of unknown foodstuffs experience is tenfold.

oh and, slightly off-topic, but mumimor, though i took a different train route, that was my experience going from France to Italy, too: a complete change of color and light, like a movie. like magic. plus, fantastic smells. you described it perfectly.
posted by lapolla at 1:35 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]


We love our long sojourns . . . . and i always miss my kitchen. I enjoy cooking so much that I read cookbooks at lunch time. When we’re on the road, we stay at places that have a kitchen. He needs tea several times a day, and I must have brekky + cartoons. So the first thing we do, sometimes before checking in, is hit a market to see what’s interesting and get some milk.

On our last trip, he suggested that I take a cooking course in every city we visit. I managed to organise 2 courses, but will plan better next time around.

Going to the market feels homey and loving, even in the cities we don’t know. It’s comforting to do an ordinary thing, yet with sometimes unknown ingredients, and be happy. Besides, if it turns out a debacle, there’s always bread and cheese and chips.
posted by lemon_icing at 1:36 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


So true! The bacalhau aisle in Portugal, the olive oil section in Spain, the dulce de leche selection in Argentina, the ... well, the pretty much everything from my western perspective in Japan.

Lately when we've traveled, we've tended to stay for a while and cook our own lunches and dinners. Part of that has been going to the supermarket (and butchershop and fruit stand, etc.) It has been such an easy and economical way to explore.
posted by veggieboy at 1:41 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


The first time I visited my Irish friend we were both still in college, so she was still living at home. Her whole family also knew me (she and I had been pen pals since we were twelve), and turned themselves inside out to make sure I saw what every single last jot and tittle of Irish life was like - I was brought to a dentist's office, made to watch the evening news, given a tour of a gas station...I also was brought to the supermarket, where i surveyed the big display of Easter chocolate and candy and then asked my friend's mother "this is strange, I don't see any egg-dying kits."

"....Any what, dear?"

"You know, kits for coloring the eggs."

"....Sorry, you do what to eggs?"

And that is how I learned that the tradition of coloring Easter Eggs is not as widespread in Ireland as it was in the U.S.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:53 PM on July 6 [15 favorites]


Yes! Supermarkets when travelling are the best. Mr. hurdy gurdy and I have just spent the last two weeks in the Czech Republic and developed a fierce loyalty to the Albert supermarket near our Prague apartment. I honestly enjoyed prowling around the aisles of unfamiliar products just as much as visiting more celebrated local sights. (The 36 degree heat wave and air conditioning in the supermarket didn’t hurt.) I’m that weirdo who likes to translate all the signs (thank you Google Translate)—I painstakingly translated one complicated looking sign in the bakery with lots of all caps, italics and exclamation points that turned out to say, “Dear Customers, please DO NOT pick up the bread with your hands!!!” I really liked that there were very few brands overall that I was familiar with.

We became so fond of the Albert near our Prague apartment that we were genuinely excited when we went to the next town on our itinerary and spotted an Albert next to the main bus terminal!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:06 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Ha! I’ve been doing this type of local exploration the last 2 days, since I left the US and moving to Denmark on Wednesday!
posted by growabrain at 2:35 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]


If there isn't an entire aisle in Danish supermarkets that is entirely blue cans of sugar cookies I will be severely disappointed.
posted by hippybear at 2:49 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]


If there isn't an entire aisle in Danish supermarkets that is entirely blue cans of sugar cookies I will be severely disappointed.
Of course there isn't, we bake our own cookies. Those are for export.
posted by mumimor at 2:54 PM on July 6 [13 favorites]


Speaking of supermarket tourism, when I was an exchange student in (then West) Germany back in 1986-87, our class took a trip to Berlin and back then, a big West Berlin tourist destination was Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe), a gigantic multi-story cathedral to western capitalism that you could see from East Berlin, shining as a beacon of freedom into the repressed East. It was actually a truly remarkable place to visit, and I remember I purchased Old El Paso taco makings (at extreme mark-up) to share with my host family, who found them too spicy to consume.
posted by hippybear at 2:57 PM on July 6 [7 favorites]


I think what are big items here that you won't find other places are rye bread and pickled herring. But we'll have to wait and see what growabrain says.
posted by mumimor at 2:57 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


When I get to a place, I spend two or so days acclimating and eating at restaurants/food stands, etc. I make note of what I like and then go to the various markets and groceries to purchase the requisite ingredients to replicate the dishes back in the flat I've rented. This was a particularly good experience in Istanbul.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 3:02 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I cannot confirm but have heard that Wegmanses located far away from their WNY home usually have at least an endcap devoted to local-to-us stuff, so you can get your Chiavetta's and loganberry.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:15 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


When I first visited the US, I was struck by how large, almost cartoonish, the text on the packaged food was... because you guys don't have to cram multiple languages on the packaging!
posted by airmail at 3:31 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]


I feel like an alien at my local grocery stores because I never have any clue what to buy.
posted by bleep at 3:46 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Either Richard Morgan doesn't know what Netflix-and-chill means, or he has an unusual relationship with challenging potato chips.
posted by smammy at 4:16 PM on July 6 [6 favorites]


When I get visitors from Germany, I always send them to Berkeley Bowl. It‘s one of the main attractions of our home town. Also, the mushroom aisle in Monterey Market.

I guess a bratwurst is a bratwurst, Freud aside.
American wurst is horrible from a German viewpoint; one big reason is the tendency not to use natural casings (no idea why), this also applies to the pretend-German brands. I can find decent varieties from specialized German butchers (there‘s one in San Leandro), but the packaged supermarket stuff is vile.
posted by The Toad at 5:28 PM on July 6 [11 favorites]


I have long been a grocery store tourist because almost all of my big trips have been hostel-centric, so buying dinner to prepare later is something that you do just as much as at home.

I recall especially fondly standing in a grocery store at midnight in Tokyo, the first jet-lagged night of the first trip that took me to Japan. I spoke enough Japanese to get through conversational basics, but my grasp of kanji and katagana and hiragana was tenuous at best. I was functionally illiterate for the first time in my adult life. It was a dizzying feeling: having spent so much of my life immersed in words, suddenly being free of them was vertiginous.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:28 PM on July 6 [9 favorites]


i also feel so lucky to live in San Francisco, where i can travel vicariously simply by choosing the neighborhood in which to shop - Russian candies in the avenues, pan dulce and hot sauce in the Mission, bean cakes and seaweed in Japantown, and the wonders of Chinese markets, etc!

Same thing in New York, or even when I was in St. Louis, for that matter. Every time I go somewhere new, I'm not interested in typical tourism—I want to know how people live, to absorb the feeling and the rhythm of the place, to see all the amazing things you can buy there that you can't anywhere else. I love being a tourist where I live as much as I do in other places. It's a way of life as much as anything, openness to trying delicious new things all the time. People who enjoy that as much as I do—without any snobbish pretension, but rather with genuine openness and curiosity—delight me.
posted by limeonaire at 5:45 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Going to grocery stores is one of my favorite activities to do when I travel but even here in Canada I enjoy going to the larger ethnic groceries - my favorite goof off Sunday activity is going to Seafood City wandering around and then getting some Jollibee to bring home. Or hitting the Caribbean grocery and getting some Ting and Rotis... Or the little Indian grocery store that always has ready made vegetarian food in the back for cheap... Oh man no wonder I never get any yard work done on the weekend.

I remember going to a Bonus in Iceland and being shocked at how small the produce section was

I wasn't too shocked about that but was deeply impressed by the prominence of the aisle of candy and particularly the enormous amount of licorice (salty and regular) available. Even more impressive then my local salty licorice purveyor, Guelph's beloved Dutch Toko (and worth the trip if you like that stuff - they even have vla in tetra packs and a small aisle of Indonesian food!).
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:48 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Your DeKalb Farmers Market is one of the things I miss most about living in Decatur. It's like Berkeley Bowl and a Costco had a child who grew up to join their high school's model U.N.
posted by taquito sunrise at 6:00 PM on July 6 [9 favorites]


This professionally produced video for the Marjane superstore chain should cover you for shopping entertainment while you wait to book a flight to Morocco to visit in person.
posted by gimonca at 6:01 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]


Reptile and I feel validated as well. We went to a supermarket in Aruba to get apples for the Donkey Sanctuary and discovered that there was a cafeteria. Cheap, local lunch while out? So now it's a thing to do.

Visiting the Swiss supermarkets during Spargelzeit was a weird, weird thing. But the bread section made it worth it.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:16 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]


and discovered that there was a cafeteria


I used to eat at Luby's regularly, in a previous phase of my life. Loved it. Choose your food as you go, it's all there in front of you!
posted by hippybear at 6:21 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


I've been out of the US long enough now that have this experience when I go back and have to run down to the Stop and Shop where I worked in high school. The overwhelming number of choices still zaps me. Like, 6 different kinds of hummus? How many different brands of paper towels? 287 kinds of breakfast cereal?
posted by Gotanda at 6:32 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


I have never tasted anything so astringent and hope to never again.

Allow me to introduce you to the bitter melon.
posted by Candleman at 6:49 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]


In 2017, when I visited friends living in Dubai, I loved the souq and the grocery store the best. The grocery stores were a bit disappointing in Vieques, Puerto Rico; Christiansted, US Virgin Islands; and St. George, Bermuda. I really enjoyed the little vegan grocery stores in Copenhagen (can't remember the names), Malmö (Astrid och Aporna, Swedish for Astrid and the monkeys--such a great little store), and Dublin.
posted by wicked_sassy at 7:04 PM on July 6


@girlwiththehat Carrefour is actually French (carrefour means crossroads) but I too learned of it in China and then met it again in France where the merchandise was quite different!
posted by raccoon409 at 7:07 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


If you're bemoaning the homogenization of American soda, may I share the good news of my buddies Cel-ray and Manhattan Special
I've never had Manhattan Special but a friend from Nork claimed Cel-ray soda was w.o.n.d.e.r.f.u.l so one hot day I picked up a can at a local deli and started drinking it on the way home. Wowzer, what a horrible horrible taste and I was in the car and couldn't even spit it out and had nothing else to rinse with. I still can't decide if he ran a really successful con on me or if he just remembered it fondly because there was nothing else safe to drink in Queens.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:19 PM on July 6 [7 favorites]


Cool to see Harris Farm Markets mentioned in the article. They have always sold the weird imperfect fruit and veg - always a little cheaper and generally in cool little buckets that just tempted you. I could get stuff there that was impossible to find anywhere else - cans of chipotle in adobo sauce, premium Thai fish sauce, an infinite variety of dried legumes, fresh herbs from two or three different continents, and their meat counter would sell me cuts and organs you'd never see in a regular supermarket.

I love their shops and was truly upset when the one closest to me shut down because the land was being redeveloped. Now the closest one is far too far away to be practical and I really miss it.
posted by ninazer0 at 7:22 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Grocery shopping in Sarajevo was fun. I like trying to find allegedly American foods over - seas. Kelly’s corn chips which came from Austria with my home made salsa was a nice, not too expensive treat, but only ONE store had them, a tiny, hole in the wall store on Bardakcija, next to the pharmacy I went to. In Sarajevo drug - stores sell food, cleaning supplies and cosmetics. They probably don’t have much you’d get at an American drug - store ( pharmacy).
The other weird thing is you’d expect prices to be lower in the big market, for some things, prices were lower within a block of where I lived. Also suho meso was cheaper than fresh meat at that time. I did not often buy fresh meat for that reason. Bread was fairly cheap. Going out to eat was not expensive. The food was very good too. Also, very good regional wines. Even the boxed wines were decent. Mead was something you could buy in the big vegetable market. Then there were the ladies who sold greens and herbs for making medicinal teas. I really liked these ladies and learned a lot of useful cures from them.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:25 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Also I wish I could get the lovely instant soups they had here.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:28 PM on July 6


I miss Luby’s very cheap, high quality food and almost anything you want.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:38 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Now I don't feel like such a rube for spending so much time marveling through the Safeways of London.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:54 PM on July 6


I have always loved going to markets when traveling in order to see and try new things, and to feel a little more like I am part of the flow of day-to-day life, but recently I have taken to it as a survival technique on work trips. I'm often too zonked from jet lag to make sense of going out and getting dinner after work, so I try to keep my hotel room stocked with some basics instead. That way I never go to bed hungry. And when there's a fridge, I have the option of quietly eating a yogurt in my room for breakfast, which is an easy and calm way to start the day.

I shopped at the big vegetable market in Sarajevo once! The old ladies were patient with my lack of language skills and the produce was so good. I can't remember all of what I bought, but definitely the makings for a shopska salad.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:56 PM on July 6


Allow me to introduce you to the bitter melon.

taquito boyfriend loves him some bitter melon & has a story about tasting a particularly mild one, running into the room where his ex was sleeping, and shouting "EX'S NAME! I INSIST THAT YOU TASTE THIS BITTER MELON! IT IS MERELY UNPLEASANT!"

He usually ends this story with "and that is why I'm a terrible person to live with."
posted by taquito sunrise at 7:57 PM on July 6 [11 favorites]


I love the local grocery stores when I travel abroad. To the point where I now follow an organic grocer in Bergen on Instagram and plan to visit their shop the next time I’m there. I have a marked preference for Extra over Rema 1000 (better skoleboller and nicer clerks). I have shopping lists at the ready. I am prepared to eat my weight in fish balls and brunost, but not leverpostei, not yet.

In Edinburgh on a five day stay I found myself often helping people locate items at the Morrison’s by my rental flat, I suppose because I just look like the sort of person who likes grocery stores. And I developed a real addiction to their elderflower and apple sparkling water, which I desperately wish was exported.

Grocery stores are the beating heart of a city, I’m convinced. They’re the only way I feel like I’ve properly been somewhere.
posted by angeline at 8:19 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]


I've got particularly fond memories of a trip to Paris five years ago, staying around the corner from a sizable monoprix and therefore cooking for as many meals as we could, because as grad students whose flights and lodging was covered, but food wasn't except for a few group dinners, we could make our money go a hell of a lot farther that way. I don't miss being woken up by the 0600 deliveries for said store, but we coped.

I've also got very fond memories of British grocery stores. Oddly, I particularly like Tesco's, mostly because I can get the biscuits I remember from trips to the UK as a kid (I was obsessed with bourbon cremes back then) for pence, and it doesn't really matter that I only want a couple. And we can get Penguins, which Dr Bored for Sciences adores both for the biscuit and the bad jokes.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 8:31 PM on July 6


Traveling around Europe, visiting grocery stores has become progressively less interesting during the past 20 years. Partly because the selection in Swedish stores has exploded and diversified, partly because regional favorites are being replaced by global brands. A recent visit to a Parisian grocery was disappointing, when Oreos took over half the cookie isle, and the beers and yoghurts are the same as anywhere. Still though, the cheese...
posted by St. Oops at 8:40 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Danish supermarkets don’t have butter cookies. But there’s lots of chocolate and marzipan. Will report more later.

I remember the first time I visited a ginormous American supermarket: it was during my first week here, and it was indeed the special one on Santa Monica blvd. in West Hollywood: the variety and abundance were unfathomable to me.

But in the last 15 years or so, I never shopped at the local Albertsons, Safeway or Lucky. First because most of their offerings are colorfully-packaged heavily-processed junk food and secondly because they are so brazenly expensive. I could never understand why would anybody shop there when you have Costco and the Chinese chain Ranch 99, and even Smart and Final and traders joe.
posted by growabrain at 9:06 PM on July 6


Whenever I can on international trips, I go to grocery stores. I've annoyed the crap out of some less adventurous travel companions, although some of them like telling the stories that they find retrospectively hilarious. It's a wonderful way to find out a little about how regular local people live, and to add some texture to the ways I think about when I usually buy/eat.
posted by NumberSix at 9:36 PM on July 6


One of my favorite welcome-to-Canada experiences was visiting a run-of-the-mill mini-mart in Toronto, and realizing that the checkout counter's impulse buy items included gum, mints, disposable lighters, and a rack of regulation-size hockey sticks. The idea of someone suddenly slapping his forehead and saying, "Oh my God - I just realized I need a hockey stick, and I need it in the next 30 seconds!" still cracks me up.
posted by NumberSix at 9:52 PM on July 6 [14 favorites]


Traveling internationally with small children is really hard, but it is a very nice shortcut to this sort of cultural immersion. You simply can't depend on local restaurants to feed picky preschoolers; it's a necessity to venture out to the store to pick up a few things they'll hopefully try, or at least some fresh fruit. And then, because there's only so much museum/landmark exploration little kids can take, you find yourself playing with local kids on neighborhood playgrounds, running out to the nearest nine-story east Asian department store to get swim diapers or an extra pair of socks - you just can't be a Pure Tourist when you've got little kids with you. Unless you pack your whole house, I guess.
posted by potrzebie at 10:10 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]


I had a similar experience to the author in Bogotá: we had just arrived and the friend we were staying with was making us a quick meal. Since they were there, she explained each of the items on the table: 6 fruits in vegetables we had never heard of. Followed by one where she said "I'm not sure how to say this one in English - but it is a special vegetable that we use to make soups". Ah yes - a leek!
posted by rongorongo at 11:03 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


"You can buy wine in a supermarket? In the evening? On a Sunday? Is this legal??" is how my brain goes in any country that's not Sweden/Norway/Finland. It feels wrong.

The selection of potato chips in Bulgaria is atrocious. Salted, red pepper and ketchup. But there's a great variety of wine in your small neighborhood supermarket.
posted by Vesihiisi at 11:27 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Go to the UK and eat ALL THE COLD MEATS. Ham that isn't all water and meat glue, haslet (tastes better when pronounced properly) and chine (which most people in the uk have never heard of). This stuff is what we live on, and a lot of it never seems to make it from the supermarket (or the right sort of butcher) to the sandwich shop.

On the flip side I have spent many a happy lunchtime in a Japanese combini.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 11:47 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Chinese supermarkets and their massive 8 or 16 packs of suān nǎi, the best drinkable yogurt that I vastly prefer to kefir. The Beijing Walmart I went to had a massive expansive deli aisle completely devoted to like 100 different types of pickled vegetables, including pickled young garlic. Also most delicious sorbet popsicles ever, sigh, I miss it.
posted by yueliang at 12:35 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


I feel the whole world would be a happier place if we all had Japanese Konbini stores. I'd be happier, for one.
posted by mumimor at 12:46 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


I love Konbini and feel I'd have an easier time eating if I could just walk over and buy a rice ball whenever I want it. I still dream about the Suntory coffee milks - there was one I bought in a carton and I've never had anything taste so luxurious and 3-dimensional before from a convenience store?! it was unreal. The Califia mocha almond milk is like an 80% powered version of that.
posted by yueliang at 1:56 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


i love tht the konbinis are here in Malaysia, but specifically i love that i can get Boss Black coffee. I know South Koreans also do plain black canned coffee (no sugar!) but Japanese ones are still unbeatable for the price point, and it's proper brewed coffee, not instant. INCREDIBLE.
posted by cendawanita at 2:27 AM on July 7


The danger is that in some countries you don't automatically get shopping bags, as in America, and it turns out they're on a little shelf at knee level for you to buy. But if you don't know that, you have to fill all your pockets with groceries and still have to casually carry a precarious pyramid of food through the ancient city center.
posted by Comrade_robot at 4:46 AM on July 7


Here you go....
posted by growabrain at 4:53 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


growabrain: Danish supermarkets don’t have butter cookies.

Not even in the blue tins that may or may not contain sewing supplies?
posted by dr_dank at 4:57 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]


Especially not in those tins.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:10 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


This is timely as, as an enthusiastic supermarket tourist, I was hoping to hit some sort of shop or market in Frankfurt during a long (very long - I'll be going into the city for sure) layover tomorrow. I welcome any recommendations!
posted by mosst at 7:04 AM on July 7


I was happy to see “all-dressed” chips and Coffee Crisps in the vending machine at Pearson Airport. Regional/international* differences in junk food are thrilling to me, also!

*not Canadian


They now sell all-dressed ruffles in the U.S. They have a little crest on them with a maple leaf that explains the alien Canadian concept of "all-dressed". I'm surprised the grocery stores don't put it in the international food aisle but I guess that would be annoying for the Hostess bag fluffers to have to go to two locations in the store.
posted by srboisvert at 7:07 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


Danish supermarkets don’t have butter cookies.

English grocery stores don't have any English Muffins!

They do have canned American hotdogs though.
posted by srboisvert at 7:09 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


"You can buy wine in a supermarket? In the evening? On a Sunday? Is this legal??" is how my brain goes in any country that's not Sweden/Norway/Finland. It feels wrong.

This was within the United States, but liquor laws vary so much between states that I still remember the Twilight Zone moment of walking into a CVS drugstore in California to find a fully-stocked liquor aisle. My New York jaw hit the floor.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:06 AM on July 7 [8 favorites]


Danish supermarkets don’t have butter cookies.

English grocery stores don't have any English Muffins!


Yes, and no French Fries in France, either -- but don't miss the pastries in Denmark, they make most any American 'Danish' run away and hide in shame.
posted by Rash at 9:03 AM on July 7


I just left Seattle and moved back to New Orleans and every time I go to Rouse's (a Louisiana supermarket chain that's gotten as far as Alabama and Mississippi) the culture shock is kind of wonderful. Especially because I'd been going to Trader Joe's in Seattle which doesn't really stock much in the way of local stuff. So many local seasoning mixes, some in nicely-designed boxes, some in little baggies with headers designed by the niece who has a copy of the Adobe suite. The section of the chip aisle given over to the local brand. The place where they regularly set up a folding table with a few ropes in front of it to define the line to get in for the giant cooler full of fresh crayfish. The circular display of huge shrimp sitting out on ice.

It's just so refreshingly alien and uncorporate in a lot of ways.
posted by egypturnash at 9:56 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]


This was within the United States, but liquor laws vary so much between states that I still remember the Twilight Zone moment of walking into a CVS drugstore in California to find a fully-stocked liquor aisle. My New York jaw hit the floor.

Yeah - one can have great deal of "fun" figuring out the patchwork of liquor laws just within the U.S.
posted by atoxyl at 11:21 AM on July 7


This is always my favorite thing to do when traveling--and hitting up little minimarts/gas station marts too. I found the world's BEST crackers in a grocery store in Rome.
posted by sperose at 12:03 PM on July 7


I ate some delicious spicy shrimp chips in Greece and now I want them and have no hope of finding them ever again.

Agree grociery store travel is important!
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:44 PM on July 7


When I visited Lithuania in 2001, I learned about Minima (corner convenience store), Media (what seemed like standard US supermarket size), and Maxima (every thing you could want under one giant roof). And jam in each one. I miss that jam array.
posted by RakDaddy at 2:44 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]


Yeah - one can have great deal of "fun" figuring out the patchwork of liquor laws just within the U.S.

Like getting the smackdown at the register at Trader Joes on Sunday morning when I tried to buy some booze after just moving to Chicago. "We can't sell you that until this afternoon!". Or ten years earlier when I had to go to separate registers for the groceries and one for the booze. Even now I have to guess the age of the cashiers at the grocery store to avoid the dreaded "I need to find someone old enough to sell you this" delay.

But it is still not as crazy as Ontario, Canada where you had to go to "Brewer's Retail" (now the Beer Store) to buy beer and your twofour was slid out on a roller conveyor to you from the chilled backroom storage area. Then you had to go to "The Liquor Store" (LCBO - Liquor Control Board of Ontario) to buy all other booze. Things have loosened up a bit in the past few decades ...but not as much as you'd expect.

Puritan hangovers last forever.
posted by srboisvert at 3:08 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]


Ontario may be slow to loosening up alcohol sales but at least we know to properly label the lanes of the cashiers who are allowed to sell it.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:24 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]


I've never had Manhattan Special but a friend from Nork claimed Cel-ray soda was w.o.n.d.e.r.f.u.l so one hot day I picked up a can at a local deli and started drinking it on the way home. Wowzer, what a horrible horrible taste and I was in the car and couldn't even spit it out and had nothing else to rinse with. I still can't decide if he ran a really successful con on me or if he just remembered it fondly because there was nothing else safe to drink in Queens.

Haha I mean I'm in Queens right now but the last can I had was at Katz's Delicatessen on the Lower East Side. I'm not sure how exactly it tastes like celery in any way, 'cause to me it's more like raisin soda. And yet...I like it. I'm sorry it didn't work out for you!
posted by limeonaire at 9:02 PM on July 7


I just got back from the Philippines, where I baffled my local contacts by spending so much time in grocery and convenience stores. They seemed to understand it better when I told them I was looking to see if anywhere had Dr Pepper (nowhere did), but really, I just like visiting supermarkets when I travel.

This time I got a more complex glimpse into local life than I usually do with this habit, when I accidentally went to the supermall (where the supermarket is, alongside all the other shops and services you could need for a day of erranding) across the street from the one the locals had told me to go to, and it turned out to be the much less-nicer version (think if Dollar General were a mall and supermarket, vs. Nordstrom's). I'd been staying in a fairly Western and swanky area of Manila, so it was my first glimpse of the bits my local contacts didn't really want to show me.

Which I found a little odd, since the bigger cultural disconnect for me wasn't the nice mall vs. the cheap mall, it was the armed guards searching my bags, which happened everywhere.
posted by rhiannonstone at 10:55 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]


But it is still not as crazy as Ontario, Canada where you had to go to "Brewer's Retail" (now the Beer Store) to buy beer and your twofour was slid out on a roller conveyor to you from the chilled backroom storage area.

How else you going to get your your two-four of Elsinore?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:31 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]


Corn chips are not tortilla chips.

Ugh don't remind me.

My fave thing in e.g. Mexican markets is fruit. Just so many different things that are hard to ship or don't have market demand elsewhere.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:23 AM on July 8


English grocery stores don't have any English Muffins!

Er...

Tesco, where they're even labelled as "English Muffins"
Sainsbury's
Waitrose (where you can also get organic wholemeal, cheese and black pepper and ancient grain variations)
Aldi
Morrisons

... and so on.

I too miss the Japanese konbini, with their excellent onigiri, seasonal fruit salad pots and ever-changing assortment of interesting chocolate snacks. Puchi Kuma Land chocolate bears taught me always to open an unfamiliar box of snacks and try one straight away... if you've never seen it before, you may never see it again, and you may spend the rest of the trip vainly scouring the shelves of every konbini you pass looking for more.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 7:17 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Yes! I agree with taquito sunrise, Your Dekalb Farmer's Market is the greatest.

I haven't lived in Atlanta for more than 20 years and it's still where most of my tea, spices and honey come from. (Seriously, the spice prices are insanely cheap.)

The produce is phenomenal. If you grew up in a culture where your fruits and veggies are different than what is available in the average US grocery store you are in luck. It is literally a football field of every type of produce, from the most obscure root vegetable to tropical fruits I'd never seen outside of Asia. They even make fresh Guarapo from massive stalks of sugarcane that they crush right in front of you.

I recommend going there even if you don't have room in your suitcase because the cafeteria is amazing and it's a great place to experience.
posted by Alison at 8:38 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]


I miss Rouse's! Strangely, it's also the best supermarket sushi I've ever had, and I'm from the Bay Area? Even the avocados were cheaper. Went to it when I was in New Orleans back in 2016.
posted by yueliang at 12:04 PM on July 8


rambutans are my absolute favorite fruit on the planet. but the Vietnamese name is what everyone should call them: chôm chôm
posted by numaner at 3:14 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]


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