Nichol and Matt go to Chile!

Archive for March 27, 2012

Musings from the Supermercado

It’s been two days since the earthquake, and things are feeling a little more stable. Stable enough in fact, that we thought we’d write a little something about groceries. Specifically, some of the more…different…aspects of grocery shopping here, compared to back home.

First off, in such a beautiful, farm-rich country, it seems odd that the ‘supermercados’ seem to have very little selection (and spotty availability) when it comes to produce. The best selection that we’ve come across has been at the Lider about a 5 minute walk away (or 10, if the Chilenos are out, they only seem to be in a hurry if there’s a train to catch, and then they’re ruthless…but that will be for another time). In the produce department, we’ve learned that just because we see something one day, there are no guarantees that it will be there 24 hours later. This rule even seems to apply to the most ‘basic’ of ingredients like tomatoes, lemons, apples, even broccoli and bananas! The only produce that they never seem to run out of (lucky for Nichol) is avocados, and (lucky for nobody) bagged lettuce (which proceeds to go bad overnight in our fridge).

When we are lucky enough to find what we’re looking for, the process of buying said ingredients is slightly different than what we’re used to. It seems as though Chilenos love to make everything into a process, even when not dealing with bureaucracy. Case in point, one does not simply put their produce into a bag and bring it to the till to be weighed upon check-out. No, you place the produce (and baked goods, if you’re in the bakery) into the appropriate plastic bag (making sure to triple knot it…or else they’ll glare whilst doing it for you) and proceed to take it to the nearest available scale, where, eventually a disgruntled employee will weigh each bag, print out a bar-coded tag and stick it to the sack. Oh, and don’t even think about not bagging something (even a single piece of fruit), that will only earn you sincere exasperation as they proceed to do it for you.

Now for the deli. Remember in 1989 when you took a number to get your sliced ham? Well those days are back! Except this time, there are six employees having a good ‘ol time chit-chatting behind the counter, and don’t even think about approaching until you’ve taken a number (even if there’s no line; see previous post). Thus far the process seems to be worth it if we’re looking for pork products (top-notch) or chicken, but the beef here leaves something to be desired. Enjoy your Alberta beef folks, it’s a treat!

Most of the other aspects of the stores are pretty Westernized, albeit it with understandably far fewer choices for any given product, and the complete lack of fresh milk and quality cheese. Here, milk comes in tetrapacks that take years to expire (and is a pale shade of grey), but oddly there seems to be an entire aisle dedicated to yoghurt (you can even buy it in a 1kg sack!). After the yoghurt, perhaps the best stocked aisle pertains to booze, especially wine and pisco derivatives. We know it’s common outside of Canada, but we still find it strange to have a liquor department in the grocery store (or convenience store for that matter). Oh well, at least we don’t have to make an extra stop. 🙂

With all of the necessities in hand, it’s time to head to the till. Here the process is quick and efficient. Ha, we just got you didn’t we? No, in a similar vein, the cashiers run the items through without too much urgency and usually ask if you want to pay in ‘cuotas’ (installments) if you’re using a credit card. Luckily, a bag-person is present at every till; however, as we recently found out, they are not paid an hourly wage. Instead, they pay the grocery store ~500 CLP a shift (about $1 CAD), and work for tips. We’re not sure what the going rate typically is, but based on what we’ve observed we generally tip about 300 CLP. Unfortunately, even here the addiction to plastic bags is evident (e.g., a double-bagged mango, itself in the produce bag) and the tips do not guarantee effective bagging (evidenced by the bottle of rum on the carton of eggs…double-bagged). Seriously, we’ve gone through more plastic bags since being here than we would have in a year back home!

With authentic tomato sauce!

On a lighter note, there’s all sorts of fun products that we’ve come across. One example is the par-baked pizza crusts, complete with ‘tomato sauce’ (denoted by the still dry, red-tinged area…they’re not big on pizza sauce here…), but it works well enough as a base. Canned fruit in cream is another interesting one…our favourite is “Svelty” (no one is getting svelty with 25% MF cream…). A final example that we came across today is the package of par-cooked chow mein noodles, which were actually quite good for tonight’s stir-fry. The Asian noodles, made in Peru, serve as a great example of cross-cultural confusion as evidenced by the cooking instructions on the back, which we’ll sign off by directly quoting (we’re not making this up):

  1. To place to the fire containing a litre of water, to the boiling of this, to introduce vermicelli in her.
  2. To boil during 5 minutes, to retire of the fire.
  3. To Slip them a atrainer with cold water, being ready so that you prepare it to your pleasure.

Chow mein noodles, producto Peruviano.

Kind of poetic isn’t it? Good night everybody 🙂