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Yesterday was errand day. I drove 45 minutes to an area that had all the stores I wanted in close proximity to each other. I had two coolers, and a long list of merchandise that we needed for some reason or another. I could have bought most of the things I was purchasing closer to home, but each place I went had a bit of a wider selection, so I had more choices. Plus, when I was done with the basics I would have a chance to play for an hour until it was time to beat the bus home. I started with building supplies, two general merchandise stores, then a grocery and I saved the best parts for last. I was going to go international.
I stopped for lunch at a Salvadoran cafe, had a bite to eat and watched English soccer teams go head to head with Spanish language play by play, and rested up a bit. This was my transition point, a language I understood, a cook/waitress who had pride in her handmade tortillas, and fresh real ingredients and someone else waiting on me.
So, with my car loaded down with cinder blocks, paint, cat litter, a big bird feeder, a new hair dryer, and a major pantry re-stock, I headed to the international grocery, my playground, my adventure. Some people buy jewelry, shoes, electronics or knick knacks, I'm into funky groceries. I can't help it.
This market has an interesting dynamic, the workers speak Spanish (mostly of the Central American variety) as their primary language and the management is Korean. The voices over the loudspeaker will vary in Spanish, Korean and Korean accented Spanish, just to keep you on your toes. The languages of the customers can be just about anything, Chinese, Korean, Hindi, Tagalog, Spanish, Twi, Arabic... Often, I am the only primary English speaker in the building, giving me the feeling that I have just traveled to a distant land, without having to go through airport security.
The first indication that this will be something different comes as soon as I walk in the door with the "No pet, No flipflop" sign taped to it. I sniff the international market smell...its a bit funky-cabbage-y. I know I am not in a Safeway, though it has sections labelled Bakery, Deli, Meat, etc., the pallets of exotic produce just inside that define the walkway let you know that this place wasn't designed inside some marketing office in New York.
When I arrive at the fifty foot section of greens in the produce department I have to hold myself back and to keep telling myself that this stuff will keep a week, tops, don't lose it, but I over-buy anyway. We'll be sure get our vitamin A and iron big time this week.Fresh parsley, dill, watercress, baby Shanghai cabbage (mild and kind of like bok choy, a bit more tender), mung bean sprouts, and collard greens snagged me there. The supermarkets near my house always seem to have curly parsley with its funky texture, not the flat leaf that I love, so I bought two, since I've been craving tabouleh. The big bunches of dill and water cress were a dollar each, and aren't in the stores near home except once in a while in teeny quantities for a big price due to their fancy packaging. I'll take the big bunch held together with a red rubber band any day. The "fresh" greens in the regular supermarket somehow manage to always look as if they have been sitting there for at least a week, so I buy frozen, but they always seem mushy and watery. Here the greens look like they came in this morning and there is more variety than at the farmer's market.
The hot pink and green dragon fruit grabbed me as I headed to the apples, I was helpless under its colorful spell. I paid 50 cents less per pound for apples than I would have in the super market, which helped make up for the splurge on the dragon fruit. The seasons do change in this store unlike the regular supermarket, so there is a different selection every time I go, I love a good produce surprise. When they have persimmons in season a Japanese lady (customer, not employee) always seems to appear from no where to give me a lesson on choosing the best quality and the differences of the varieties, the Japanese are very clearly passionate about their persimmons. I just smile and and nod and pretend it's my first time while choosing the flatter, crunchy fuyus and avoiding the pointy hachiyas.
On to the refrigerated section, there is tofu of every nationality, did I want the packaging in Chinese, Korean or Japanese? Firm, silken or soft?? Several small cakes or one big one? Organic or conventional? Cute cartoons on the package or none? Giant bucket down to a tiny aseptic box? Firm, small cakes, moderately sized package, no cartoons, Chinese text was my choice. I talked myself out of kimchi (hot spicy fermented cabbage, the Korean cure-all) and the fish cake, this week. The bright yellow pickled radish, which reminded me that I hadn't made Kimbap (Korean sushi) in a while, so I grabbed some--but forgot to get the nori (seaweed), so that will have to wait for a bit. It keeps for months. I didn't even look at the Central American refrigerated section, I knew I was running out of room in the fridge.
The Panaderia (Spanish bakery) in the back of the store offered warm samples of their chocolate filled pastries, but my milk allergy made me pass them by, they smelled fabulous. I resisted the urge of the call of Indian aisle with its spices, ten types of lentils and spicy boondi (a yummy snack), because boondi is addictive as potato chips which means it could rapidly undo all my working out, I couldn't let it get within reach
Instead, I headed down to the meat aisle where everything from fowl and boneless skinless breasts, to tripe, calves feet, pork belly, hamburger, whole salmon staring back at you with its head and tail and octopus are available. I didn't get any this week, I had already filled my coolers. I did go to the freezer section to get cha shi bao (steamed meat filled rolls-which we had for breakfast this morning) and pot stickers. At this point I checked my phone and it was time to play beat the school bus. While I check out, always the same cashier, who never says anything but the total.. While she's ringing, I study all the different kinds of rice that can be bought in 25 lb bags, and always have a last regret as I exit back past the produce, because I'm sure I NEED something additional.
I walk out into the parking lot and suddenly, I'm back in American urban sprawl, with the giant parking lot, and four lane roadway. No more time to play, I spent half of what I would have on a pair of shoes and will get a week's entertainment from my purchases.
Oh, I did need something additional, I forgot sesame oil.