Saturday, July 24, 2010

Grocery Store Fun

I love grocery shopping in Hong Kong. Well, let me clarify. I don't love it when I'm sitting in our air-conditioned apartment on the couch with my feet propped up and a good book in my hands. At those times when Mom asks me if I want to go to the store, my spirit groans a little. Usually out of a sense of duty (and some guilt over the fact that I haven't exercised all day) I agree to venture out into the open-air sauna that is Hong Kong in July.

Today's weather was a little different. A typhoon came near a couple days ago, bringing with it torrential rains. As my mom cheerfully pointed out to me as I was wilting on the sidewalk, the rain had cooled the air down a bit. Sure, it was cooler, but the air was even damper. I didn't think it was possible, but the humidity level was higher than it was before the storm. If it were any more humid, I would be swimming to the store. I focused on making my legs move and my hand wipe my gushing forehead.

We finally made it to the store. I stumbled onto the escalator that bore us up to the second floor, and then it was in the doors, embraced by the sweet air conditioner emissions. After basking for a minute, Mom and I grabbed a shopping cart to start the adventure.

From first appearances, Hong Kong grocery stores closely resemble American ones. There's the produce to the left, the display ends on the aisles, and stacks of green and pink gum by the cashiers. But then you look closer.

In the produce section, I pass kiwi and apples, grapes and oranges. But what's that? There's a weird spiky fruit that's red with green and yellow tips. A neat sign sits under the chaotic pile: dragon fruit. I was looking for limes without much success. Last year, I went through a bottle of lime juice at least every month or two. I use it in stir-fries, burritos, lime-garlic-chicken, and limemade. But this grocery-store didn't seem to care much about my lime-consumption. I looked all around the oranges, the lemons, and the grapefruit. No limes. Finally, I found a small box of Thai limes. And yes, they were very expensive. I might have to substitute lemon juice in the future.

Then there's the cheese problem. I am a cheese fanatic. Most of my dad's family is from Wisconsin. Dairy farmers, a lot of them. Cheese curdles in my blood. Well, in all honesty, that's probably just an excuse. I don't think any of the other members of my family love cheese quite as much as I do, and we obviously come from the same stock. And I've never lived in Wisconsin. Neither have I made my own cheese. But I still love cheese. There is not much cheese in Asia, at least cheese that doesn't cost more than gold-encrusted elephant tusk. The cheese section depresses me something fierce.

I just want some cheese. When I look at the three small hooks with cheese bags hanging from them, I feel the urge to grab all the cheese I can hold and make a break for it. Mom reminds me that each bag of cheese is over six dollars. Looking down, I find a hidden bag that's marked "sale." I grab the bag, free it from its cold, metal hook, and present my find to Mom.
"That's good, honey." She tells me. "But it's still five dollars."

Thankfully for me, my mom also likes cheese. We end up buying two bags including the sale bag. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

Mom sent me on a mission to find some brown sugar. I started off ok, cruising up and down the aisles, scanning the shelves, dodging little, grumpy-looking old ladies. But then I saw the soup packs. At the end of one aisle, there's an enormous array of weird foods wrapped together in plastic. Some of the things were recognizable, like peanuts. Others were not, like a grayish yellow sponge. I wondered about that sponge. I mean, I'm sure it's edible since it is in the soup packet and I don't think they'd put anything in there that a family wouldn't want to boil in a large pot and slurp out of round, blue and white bowls. But at the same time, what if it was a sponge? What if the factory worker in the soup-packet factory got bored one day and decided to slip a sponge into one of the soup packets? Who would know? I probably would do the same thing if I were a factory worker in a soup-packet factory. It doesn't seem like it would be a terribly exciting job. And then, if a factory worker did slip a sponge into one of the soup packets, would anyone even notice the difference?

Then I realized that I still hadn't found the brown sugar. That's my problem. I always get distracted and inspect the dried fish heads and read the ingredients on the Indian snack boxes and try to figure out how one jar of green olives could cost more than a mid-sized yacht.
At least grocery stores aren't as bad as street markets. There I have black fungus balls and reindeer hooves and live toads to distract me. I'll take a pile of fish heads any day.

Well, I did find the brown sugar. Eventually.

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