Museums are wonderful, and of course I appreciate a good vista, but when I'm in a new place, one of my very favorite things to do is go to the grocery store...
I love a new grocery store! Whether it's in a town or state or country I've never been before, a new grocery store is utterly fascinating. This one has an entire aisle of mustards, this one has an extensive Swedish section, that one has the most beautiful breads I've ever seen, and for cheap. When I was in Italy last year, we did a grocery store run to stock our villa up for the week and to gather all the ingredients I'd need to make the wedding cake. The groom kept us on a tight shopping timetable, a very wise move considering I could have spent hours in the pasta aisle alone. So many pastas! The olive oil and vinegar section was museum-worthy, the produce was picture-perfect, but then I could only find one kind of chocolate. Fascinating. I picked up a lot of gifts — honey for the honey fiend, jam for my family, unique cake-making and decorating supplies for my favorite bakers — at very, very reasonable prices.
In Where's The Beef? Exploring Hong Kong Supermarkets, Jen of TomEatsJenCooks relates the fun and confusion of learning to grocery shop in her new home. Two of her most interesting observations were, "I’ve seen more variety in brands than I have anywhere else in the world. But when I take a closer look, I’m wondering — what exactly are my choices? Hmmm, do I want Jalapeno Cheetos, Cool Ranch Doritos, or Tyrell’s crisps? And over here we have seven kinds of Japanese mayonnaise with MSG!" and "Which brings me to the second point of supermarket shopping in Hong Kong -there is no rhyme or reason to price or quality." (This second point is illustrated by the fact that a bulb of garlic at three different stores ranged in price from 50¢ to $6.) I should perhaps note that Jen wrote this three months after moving to Hong Kong, and when I had the opportunity to speak with her a couple of years later, she had deep affection and respect for the food culture and availability there.
My other favorite spot to check out when travelling would probably be a thrift store, as I consider them to be hyper-local museums. Every single object in the place was owned and perhaps even loved by someone right here! Much like a grocery store, it's a good place to get a feel for a neighborhood, and to pick up some affordable souvenirs and gifts.
Where do you love to pop in whenever you're travelling?
(Image: Emily Ho/Pike Place Market Store Profile)