Though I really enjoy visiting supermarkets in foreign countries, there are benefits to visiting domestic supermarkets as well. But the point is, do not overlook the supermarket for a worthwhile adventure while on the road.
Over the years, we have discovered some really interesting gift items and experiences. One of my first visits in a foreign country was in London back in the 70s. I found the “Wagon Wheel” brand on boxes of produce. The Sorensen family were near and dear to our family since they managed my Grandmother’s farm in Sanger when my family was sent to a WW2 Relocation Camp in Gila, Arizona. Sadly, I think the brand is gone, but the Sorensen’s live on!
Often times, I see our Kingsburg based Sun Maid brand of raisins in places all over the world, like Bangkok, Rio, and Cape Town. Our family has been a member of the Sun Maid Raisin Cooperative since the 40s. And I often take little boxes of raisins as gifts on my overseas travel.
But aside from seeing familiar brands, I enjoy visiting foreign supermarkets for unique and local food and gift items. Recently, I have found some decent champagnes, Greek kydoni (candied quince), Spanish Iberico jamon, Buffalo grass vodka (Poland),and everyone’s favorite wine gummies.
My two favorite sections are the wine and snack sections. Though I am often drawn to the store for basics like water, mints, or snacks, I always browse the store unless I am in a hurry. What better way to learn some local culture than to see what locals buy? It can get really strange in places like Botswana, Vina del Mar (Chile), Luang Prabang (Laos), and Anchorage, Alaska.
Take, for instance, a rather common item like potato chips. Yes, we have the usual plain, barbecue, sour cream onion, lime and ranch flavors. But can you imagine such off beat flavors as poutine (Canada), chili and lemon (Egypt), seaweed salt (Japan), Ruffles queso (Mexico), Simba tomato sauce (South Africa), Magic Masala (India), paprika (Germany), dill pickle (Russia), and haggis (Scotland), just kidding!
Fruit juice is another grocery store item that reveals much about a country. Though orange juice is the most popular around the world, you might be surprised by what I have seen. Here are some interesting fruit drinks: mango lassi (India), apple cider (England), kompot (Russia), mata kucing (Malaysia), guarana (Brazil), Calpis (Japan), mirabelle (Poland and France), avocado (Indonesia), Hibiscus (Senegal), and champus (Colombia). But having tried several, most are an acquired taste.
Of course, nothing beats the durian, aka “the king of fruit” for its unique flavor and smell. My palate says it is a cross between rotten onions and stinky sweat socks. Durian fans say it tastes like a ripe banana. The smell is so powerful, durian is not allowed on public transportation in SE Asia. But it can be purchased frozen, as well as in cookies, and cakes. Fresh durian can be purchased in Seattle at Uwajimaya, or New York’s Chinatown.
My new favorite is kydoni (candied quince), which I discovered in Santorini last year. It was served over Greek yogurt, as a complimentary dessert. When I returned to Athens, I found it in a tiny little grocery store in Plaka. Now, with each trip to Greece, I always bring back a jar of kydoni. A similar product is candied melon rind, also served over Greek yogurt.
I plan to return to Istanbul in November for one of our favorite desserts, Turkish Delight. Everyone makes it a bit differently, some with just fruit juice and gelatin, and some with nuts and nougat filling. Three years ago, I brought back a kilo (2.2 pounds). I have tried to buy a few versions from US based Greek delis, but it is not the same!
If you ever get a chance to try wine gummies, please do! These gummies do not contain wine and are much less sweetened than regular gummies. I call them gummies for adults. The best place to buy them is Germany, Harrod’s in London, or KaDeWe Department Store in Berlin.
So, you see that I enjoy the grocery store, as much as the local watering hole or taverna. And please do not forget my refrigerator magnets. I must have several hundred now, and nowhere to display them!