Yesterday’s mission, after a swim and a bit of a walk on the beach, job number one for mum and I was to get to the “supermercado” and try to buy some groceries. We have a kitchen here, and so to not cook for ourselves at least some of the time is a little silly. We walked to town and found the grocery store. It’s a tiny place – at least by our standards, four aisles, and one bank of refrigerated stuff, which was mostly drinks. We walked the aisles, looking for the basic stuff we needed, and marveled at the way things were different. At first in the store, we didn’t buy anything, save a tin of black beans and four small bottles of tonic water. (The battle to obtain tonic water is epic. There’s not much of it, and it only comes in little bottles that my mother can’t truck with. We’ve gone into store after store, and when I ask for “agua tónica? Grande, no pequeño” the clerks all reel with shock. Whether big bottles just don’t exist, or they’re appalled that your intake would be such that you need a big one, I just can’t say. Small bottles it is.) There were shelves and shelves of junk food. Chips, many bags of something with a pig on it (pork rinds? Is that a thing? I’d never considered the possibility that pigs had rinds, like a watermelon or something?) and mountains of pop.
All the liquor is in there (my mother is also surprised at the scarcity of gin, to go with the tonic, but is starting to see an emerging picture of a non-British drinking pattern.) and veritable rafts of cookies, biscuits, lady fingers, candy and strange puffed snack foods composed of what, we cannot say.
The square footage and variety of hot sauce would blow your mind…
and in my favourite aisle, hundreds of candles (mostly religious, and many featuring Our Lady of Guadeloupe, who’s a pretty big deal around here) positioned next to the bug killing stuff. There’s no knowing if there’s a message in that.
(My mother claims there is. There’s such a massive number of tiny ants here – they get into everything, and she hates them so much that she’s been as the avenging hand of Shiva, killing them any way she can -except with the Raid, she won’t buy that. Mum says that the candles are probably by the Raid because maybe you light one and pray that the ants won’t get into the sugar again. In my case, I’m hoping to find a way to keep them from taking up residence in my laptop every night. I’m yet to find a place to keep it where when I get up and turn the thing on, a hundred very tiny ants don’t pour from my keyboard as it heats up.)
We were wondering where the “good food” was (not that beans and gin aren’t good food, in my mother’s estimation) but we hadn’t found anything that we really needed. Turns out there’s a second room – tiny, no bigger than my living room, and you open the door and go in, and that room is air-conditioned, and voila. Everything “good” is in there. There you find the butter, and the milk – here it comes in tetra pacs and doesn’t need refrigeration, but there is anyway.
There’s something called “horchata concentrado” that promises to be delicious, and was flying off the shelves…
and big bricks and bags of spices that we couldn’t identify. They had no words on them to translate and we guessed that they’re just so common that people here identify them by the way they look.
I think the big brick of red stuff is maybe paprika, and I think the brown one could be cumin… but what could the big bag of pale green stuff be? The black? (I use a lot of spices when I cook, but my mind cannot comprehend a life where a brick of paprika isn’t a lifetime supply.)
There are boxes of dried peppers of all kinds, and so many sorts of fresh peppers that the mind reels. Even with the fabulous diversity I get in a Toronto grocery store, there were peppers I couldn’t identify for love nor money.
There were these big bags of stuff that look like pasta, and might be pasta (we didn’t find much pasta other than this) but it was shiny and a little translucent in a way that pasta isn’t, and there was a sign on it that I couldn’t totally translate, even with the help of google. It said “Harina de Maiz nixtamalizado maseca 1k”
All I could get out of that was that it’s corn flour something, and that you get a kilo of it. It looks interesting though, and I’ll buy it and cook it if I can figure out how on earth I would do that.
There were plantains, and a few vegetables, including the strange chayote that we got fond of while we were in the Domincan Republic, but very little fruit. What fruit there was reminded me of the standards we have for produce in Canada and the US. We don’t just want our fruit and veg to taste good, we want it unblemished and gorgeous to look at, and that just doesn’t happen here.
See that? Oranges that are really yucky on the outside, and really delicious on the inside.
In the end, we got coffee (very good coffee, it turns out) some yoghurt that mysteriously contains “cereales” but is pretty tasty. Some tomatoes, onions, a chayote, an avocado, milk, tea, bananas, tortillas. rice, beans and some manchego cheese that I managed to order sliced, but wasn’t able to figure out how to ask her to wipe the ham off the slicer before she did it. Such is the state of my Spanish. I’m grateful I got as far as I did. What we didn’t find? Bread, buns… or really a lot of fruit or vegetables. My guess is they come from somewhere else, and that this small supply is for the tourists. The words I learned in Spanish yesterday? Two. “Cortado” – for sliced, and “panaderia” which is bakery, and what we’re looking for today.