Forget the Supermarket
What’s wrong with supermarkets?
Most everywhere outside of North America, grocery stores are where you’ll find white people doing their groceries. Not being racist, I am white after all, but supermarkets are a rather new invention in our society, and the rest of the world is still catching up. In fact, in some places, supermarkets just don’t make any sense and mostly cater to the affluent population–either foreigners whom have not adapted to local standards of living, or well-off locals keeping up with the foreign Jones. It’s a status symbol sort of thing.
Supermarkets worldwide carry the same sort of brands, plus of minus a few exceptions, and the same imported fruits and veggies, plus or minus a few variations. If you shop at a supermarket you’ll get the same cut of meat in the same styrofoam/plastic wrap, and you won’t be learning much about locally-sourced food and how it’s prepared.
What’s more, you’ll be putting your cash in the pockets of multimillionaires who run the same chains, with different names, worldwide.
Ok, even if you don’t care about any of that,
Here’s a Better Reason
for you to go to a market instead of the grocery store: portion sizes.
Supermarkets are meant for residents with the luxury of fridges and cupboard space. As a traveler, you have neither. If you’re looking for rice, it’ll come in a pound bag, unless you go for the prepared foods or frozen sections.
Where to do Groceries When Traveling:
Here in the DR there are food trucks that pass by with loudspeakers announcing what they have, “colmados” where you can buy any quantity of anything, and “butchers” sell out of deepfreezes in up-cycled shipping containers.
In Senegal, there are busy markets with bulk grains and spices.
In France, you can get everything from the markets.
It might be that you need to get ingredients from different places. For example, in El Salvador, I got my bread from the guy on the bicycle at 5:30 am, my fish from the fisherman whenever he got back, and the fruits and veggies from the corner store.
What’s more, if you shop at markets, you’ll need to interact with the locals in a way that’s a little bit more profound than staring at the screen for the price and handing your cashier the right amount of cash. And yeah, it’ll be awkward and full of hand gestures if you don’t speak the local language, and yeah, you’ll have to haggle the right price and probably be charged too much anyway.
It’s Part of the Culture
This might seem like a hassle but, aren’t you here to learn about the local culture?
Eating is a universal necessity, and the way in which different peoples have creatively dealt with unique ways of growing, storing, and trading food is one of the major cornerstone of what creates a culture. Buying and preparing food the way locals do isn’t a hassle, it’s what you came for, part of the adventure.
Sure, from time to time you’ll be exhausted and head for the comforts of home. Nothing wrong with that, but remember to try to keep it as the exception instead of the rule.
If you’re really lost, find yourself a local friend who can teach you the ropes and some basics. A great place to start is the staff at your hostel. If that doesn’t pan out try couchsurfing.org where you can hook up with locals for a drink, not just to mooch off their couch (but hey, that’s cool too!)
Couchsurfing.org is great as a cultural bridge. The fact that these locals are online already means they have been at least partially westernized. Of course, their culture will still be strong, but you might find you have an easier time relating to, and having a lasting conversation with, someone whom you’ve met on couchsurfing.org rather than a random stranger on the street who doesn’t speak your language.
But hey, if locals shop at the supermarket, well, you know what to do ;)
Do you have supermarket of market horror stories? Or tips I’ve forgotten?
If you missed any, check them out right here: