Sunday, May 25, 2008

Clean-Up in Aisle Seven

I have never been a fan of grocery shopping. In fact, I hate it and if it wasn’t for the fact that I simply don’t have the time to grow my own veggies and meat, churn my own butter or milk my own cows, I would never step into a grocery store. Ever. It was bad enough in the US, with the over sized stores, numbered aisles and checkout counters spanning as far as the eye can reach and they were open 24 hours day. I used to do my shopping at 23:30. I preferred Vons Pavillions with their fabulous Deli and the best chicken salad I think I have ever had.

When I moved to Holland, I was shocked. The stores were only open from 9 – 6 and closed on Sundays. Not only that, but I had to bring my own bags or pay for new ones. And I had to bag groceries myself. How was I supposed to know that the eggs don’t go on the bottom of the bag

The local grocery store was the size of the 7-11 I lived near in New York, only without the 32 ounce Big Gulp and not a Slurpee in sight. No longer could I choose from 500 different types of ketchup, I got what they wanted to offer. Skippy Peanut Butter? Out of the question. Fruit Loops? No way. I couldn’t even get Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I know, it was a barbaric existence.

But then I moved to India which took grocery shopping to a whole new level. No aisles. No carts. No hand-held baskets. Being in a store meant being in a human sliding block puzzle. Everyone had to move in a certain way in order to get through the store. One wrong move and we were all stuck. At Malik Brothers in Defence Colony, where we normally do our shopping is a bit smaller than our flat, a rectangle with 3 meter ceilings and goods stacked from floor to ceiling like a Junga game. Pull out the wrong item and it all comes tumbling down. In the middle is a little island crammed with more stuff that gives the store 2 aisles. Well, aisles is putting it a bit strong. They are very narrow passageways with a one person occupancy rule. And there are usually 50 people in the store at any given moment. The one thing I do love about shopping in India is the fact that one can strand at the counter and other people will run off and get whatever you want. Manuel, however always feels the need to browse as though he is there for the very first time. He will spend long minutes lingering over the three brands of soap. Each time he makes the same path through the store and each time he “ooohs” and “aaaahs” over the same products and laments about the available selection.

Last Saturday we went to Gurgaon, the dust bowl to the south of Delhi. We were on a mission to check out a new grocery store named Spensers’ Hyper. I had fallen for the hype of gourmet stores here before and so didn’t really have any high hopes as we pulled up to the MGF Mega City Mall, a rather small and unglamorous mall. Spencers’ was in the basement. We walked down the ramp and soon we were standing in a store unlike anything I had ever seen in India. It was a smaller version of Carrefour. Television, the largest bookstore I had ever seen in Delhi, DVDs, appliances, clothes, and groceries. Everything in wide aisles with room for shopping carts. We wandered here and there, taking it all in and then made a mad dash for the international section. Tabasco brand Bloody Mary mix. Blue Diamond Almonds. Campbell’s Soup. Wasabi peas! It just wasn’t going to get any better.

But suddenly, through the plate glass walls where the new bakery will be going, I saw it. That very specific color of yellow that can only be found on a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. I made a mad dash over the wine section, and there it was, a yellow labeled bottle of bubbles, flanked on one side by Moet and the other by G.H. Mumm. It was the first time since moving here that I found champagne anywhere outside of a restaurant. Normally it has to be brought in when returning from abroad. And suddenly here it is, just in time for my birthday which now I can guarantee will be a bubble filled bash.

After the emotional overload of shopping in grocery store heaven, we went upstairs into the mall for a bite of lunch in the food court. I have always thought of Gurgaon playing the part of New Jersey to Delhi’s New York. This point was driven home, and hard, the moment we walked through the main doors of the mall. It was Hannah Montana day. There were larger than life banners and flat screens and a stage upon which children too young to audition for Idols were doing their best Bollywood karaoke. The highlight was the girl singing “Salaam-e-Ishq.” I almost choked on my chicken shwarma.

Enough was enough and so we went back to downstairs for groceries. It as then I realized the problem with Spencers… Nobody understands the rules of shopping cart etiquette. The vegetable aisle was worse than a Delhi traffic jam and it seems that some tings are universal. Parents everywhere seem to find it cute when their toddlers push the shopping cart into others. For the record, it is not cute, and neither are the sneakers that make sounds with every step. They are annoying, should be illegal and considered a crime against humanity.

We finally had enough excitement for the day and so sped home to Delhi, where I made a very yummy BBQ thanks to Lawry’s Louisiana Marinade and the BBQ we received from Stephen and Pierre.

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