Supermarket obsession

Port Townsend, Friday 10 February 2012

It’s a silly thing, but I enjoy visiting supermarkets in foreign countries. Heaven only knows why. Back in the UK, a trip to Sainsbury’s gives me the heebeejeebees; Tesco leaves me hyperventilating in a corner; and please God don’t ever make me visit Asda: I’ll run for the hills, screaming like a banshee. They’re terrible, soul-destroying places. There must, therefore, be some anthropological satisfaction that I gain by exploring other nations’ shopping habits.

My exploration of American supermarkets left me with some interesting observations. First, dairy produce. There is a proliferation of milk, mostly sold in gallon cartons. I’m yet to figure out exactly how the fat content differentiation works, but I know that you can choose your milk from an extensive variety of dairies. Cream, on the other hand, is a one-trick pony. Well, two, to be precise; the option of whipping cream or heavy whipping cream is a far cry from double cream, single cream, (not forgetting thick and extra thick variations on both of those), whipping cream, clotted cream, and the lower-fat abominations, all in various sizes, that can be found covering the chilled cabinets in Waitrose.

I’m a yoghurt-fiend. I can eat pint containers of it in one sitting. Provided that it isn’t overly sweet or some terrible synthetic flavour, yoghurt makes me an incredibly happy Daniela. It’s not quite in the same league as ice cream, but close. But why-oh-why do the major American yoghurt producers see fit to thicken their cultured dairy yumminess with gelatin? Yoghurt isn’t meant to be a super-sweetened gelatinous gloop that has this peculiar sheen to it. It isn’t meant to hold its shape on a spoon (unless it’s Greek style, but that’s a different pot of bacteria-adulterated milk). No! None of these things! It’s meant to be soft, unctuous, and delicate. And vegetarian!

Next, stock. I’m accustomed to buying stock in cubes or powder. Sure you can buy the pouches of the super-swanky stuff if you fancy, or Benedicta’s Touch of Taste comes in hyper-concentrated liquid form, but mostly it’s dehydrated, easy-to-carry, and there are lots of vegetarian options. In the States, most of it comes in Tetra-Pak cartons and is of the chicken or beef variety. First, it’s all about the meat and second it’s all about transportation. Why worry about carrying home your groceries when your car awaits? I was beginning to think that I would be spending a day boiling up vegetable peelings so that I could cook a risotto for Katy and Camille. Just as I was about to give up hope, I spied a box of vegetarian stock, just the one. Sheesh, I never expected it to be that hard.

And Fair Trade tea and coffee don’t appear to have made their ways into the supermarkets of the Pacific Northwest yet, either. Smart coffee shops are far more accommodating, but Safeway et al have a little way to go.

If you want meat, however, you’ll be fine in any American supermarket. There’s loads of it. Heaps. Tons.

I await New Zealand supermarkets with anticipation, but boy do I miss Waitrose.