I have a lot to say about grocery shopping in India – so much that I’m having difficulty organizing all of it. So, I decided to start with a snapshot of a typical grocery shopping trip for me here.
Grocery shopping here is a lot different than I thought it’d be. I expected mostly small markets, no brand names, not much packaged food. I was way off! There are plenty of smaller markets, but also a lot of huge supercenters. And packaged food – I think Indians might eat more of it than Americans. I’m talking about sodium and MSG-laced dried soups, that sort of thing. Also, there are plenty of imported goods available, and lots of good, locally made substitutes.
I do shopping more often, but about once a week I make a bigger trip to a nearby neighborhood. It’s about a 20 minute drive, depending on traffic, and I hit four stores. Yep – four stores. They are all within a few blocks of each other. This is where the no seatbelt thing comes in handy. Dalton gets put in the carseat on the way over, and I usually leave the kids in the car (with the driver) at the bakery. But then, I just hold the baby in between stops, and put him back in the seat for the trip home.
First, we stop by a bakery called Cake Walk to pick up a loaf of whole wheat bread. This is the only place I’ve found with not crumbly bread. The loaf of bread (up on the top shelf in the back – oh look, there’s me in the mirror!) is just under $1.
After the bakery, I head to the grocery store. The store I do most of my shopping at, MK Retail, is a chain. They have sales and specials. The salesgirls (technical term) are plentiful and all wear matching kurtas. Here’s one thing I am having a hard time adjusting to – the store is on five levels. You can either take the stairs, or a teeny elevator. This is very typical – and if you have two kids to drag around, very annoying. Space is at a premium, so everything is built up.
The top three levels are things like sporting goods, toys, plastic ware, kitchen accessories, and luggage. The ground floor and first level hold food and other grocery and household items. There are 5 aisles on each of the grocery floors.
This store sells everything from Tide laundry detergent (made in India) and Oreos (imported) to store-packaged chaats – snacks like fried banana chips and wasabi peas. The only things I have been flat out unable to find at any cost are brown sugar and corn syrup, though I don’t think I’ll be shelling out $7 for a box of Poptarts anytime soon.
Connected to MK Retail is a fruit and vegetable stand and a meat and fish shop. I took a peek at the chicken for sale there, and never went back. But I do like to walk over to the produce stand and pick up a few things. At this stand, you tell them what you want and they grab it for you. At other stands I’ve been to, you use a basket to pick out and collect everything you like, then they weigh it. At some grocery stores, you can buy select prepackaged produce. At others, you can pick out what you like, but you have to wait in line to have it bagged, weighed, and stickered in the produce section.
After groceries and produce, comes the butcher. Down the street and around the corner is a very nice cold storage store – New Frosty’s. They have a lot of frozen food for sale in chest freezers, but more important, a huge selection of healthy looking chicken, fish, beef, lamb, and even pork – the only place I’ve seen it available. It is actually illegal to kill a cow in the state of Karnataka, so the beef is imported – but it is still very fresh.
Here I order what I want and how I want it. On my last trip I ordered 2 kilograms boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut very small and had them pack it in ½ kg packages (about 1 pound). I also got “beef mince” (ground beef) in ½ kg packages. The exchange rate and the kilogram-pound conversion cancel each other out nicely – the rupees/kilogram price on the sign is almost exactly the dollars/pound, if you add a decimal. Chicken breast is about $2.50/lb; Ground beef is $1.30.
So that’s it. It’s more work and more time-consuming than a trip to the grocery store in the US. And somewhat more frustrating, since I can’t always find what I’m looking for, or even figure out what it’s called. I’ll write more about grocery shopping in India another time (or two). Please leave any specific questions you have in the comments and I will try to answer them!