Knowing Thanksgiving at home is right around the corner and that many of you will be visiting your Costco’s, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and many other grocery stores, I knew it was time to write about shopping for food in India. A better description would be “hunting” for food in India. I have wanted to write about this topic since week one of our arrival, but am afraid I will not do it justice because as Conner says, “Mom, until you can put the sounds and smells into the blog, no one will really understand the experience.” So, here is my attempt at giving you a taste (and smell) of what it is like to grocery shop here.
The above picture of Modern Bazaar is one of the closest stores we have to an American grocery store. It is found at a market that is near many expat living areas. Now when you walk through the outdoor area of this market, do not take your eyes off the ground for too long as there are multiple cow droppings and stray dogs just laying around everywhere. This store is 2 levels (one store I shop at has 4 levels), but don’t let that fact lead you to believe it is a spacious store at all. You walk in, grab a plastic hand carrier (no room for grocery carts and they wouldn’t work on the stairs you must climb to get to floor 2 anyways), and SQUEEZE through the tiny aisles (aisles so tiny that two people cannot pass each other, one must turn and lean against the wall to let the other pass) trying to find anything that might work for dinner that day.
This particular store has some familiar items but be not deceived. We can find Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms, Froot Loops (which has an entirely different taste!) and multi-grain Cheerios for our cereal choices. You pay about $10/box and about 1 out of every 3 boxes you open is stale or has an interesting flavor added, like the taste of detergent that was shipped to India in the same container as the cereal. Oh, how happy Conner and Hailey are when Tyler arrives from his quarterly trip to Seattle with a fresh box of regular Cheerios!
This is the produce section of the same store (right around the corner from the pop tarts). It is one of two stores that I have seen that has a refrigerated section for their produce. Most produce is just sold sitting on the wagons and carts out in the open air. This may be one of the reasons that I have found fresh produce does not last long at all here. Apples, oranges, pomegranates, pears and mangoes have been some of the best we have ever eaten though.
Now, we leave the “expat” choice of shopping and move to the real “India” market experience. The following pictures are from the INA market in New Delhi which is well known. The market is outdoors with rows and rows of stalls. Some stalls measure out your rice from the large sacks, others are produce only, some are clothing, fabric, pharmacy type needs, and then there are some that just have a little of everything.
The picture below is a stall that isn’t even big enough to walk into. It is just a store front, but it is where you can find things such as shampoo, soap, etc. No… there is not a big selection of such but we have been able to survive so far with a much smaller selection. In fact, one American I have gotten to know says she gets overwhelmed at the stores in America because there is too much to choose from.
The store below is where I would stop to buy my ketchup, cream of chicken soup, a Snickers bar or mustard. Please notice that you must look up to discover all that is in the store. I have also learned that if you cannot find it, ask, and someone will climb a ladder, dig back three jars, and appear with what you want. When you enter a store, there is someone right there following behind you wanting to either carry your basket, or see if they can help. Often, they are breathing right down your neck and I have learned that most understand the word “browsing” so they will back off a little.
Now the most fascinating part of the INA market has got to be the meat section. I spared you the pictures of what it really looks like because it makes me never want to eat meat again (this is where you are grateful I can not insert the smell), and instead included the live chicken pictures that are adding to the egg supply. Right next to this stall were fresh chickens, just killed and laying out in the open. I have stuck with one butcher so far near our home that seems to keep his meat refrigerated — at least we haven’t gotten sick from it yet.
So as you buy that turkey, very large potatoes, seedless grapes, and maybe a box of Cheerios at the market this week, be grateful for the bounty available to you. We are so grateful that we have food in our cupboards, money to purchase it, a home to cook it in instead of on the side of the street, and clean water to drink. May each of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!