Saturday, May 15, 2010

May 15th: Fun at the RT Mart

One of my favorite things to do whenever I am in a new country is to go to the grocery store.  What oddity is there a whole aisle of? (In Italy, would you believe that it is standard to have about half an aisle of tuna?)  What item that seems like a staple to me is missing?  What is a luxury item? (Chocolate is expensive here! And butter is even more expensive!) There's all sorts of cultural information to be gathered in the grocery store.  Do salespeople leave you to your own devices, or do they smother you with offers of assistance?  Do shoppers take a number quietly or mob the counter?  And where is the sugar?  With baking goods or with the coffee?  What vegetables are common? There are mountains of eggplant both here and in Italy, but there are only a handful of puny overripe ones in a corner somewhere in American grocery stores.   Here, there is lotus root and ginger, which I've never seen at all in the U.S. 

I do most of my major grocery shopping at the RT Mart, a Taiwanese chain that is similar to Walmart.  The one in Shashi actually has better selection than the Walmart here, in fact.  The shoe display I saw the last few times I was there certainly took a lot more time and effort than I've seen many American stores go to--so I took a couple of pictures to share with you.  On the top, there's a huge sandal made by wiring together dozens of plastic sandals.  Over the next display, there was a giant peacock also made of croc-knockoff sandals.  There was something-or-other else, too, but I don't remember what it was.  I didn't get a picture of it, but there was also a dragon further down made of beach mats and patio accessories. 

Another joy to be found in grocery stores is gawking at the unusual tastes of the locals.  Now, I've seen plenty of varieties of popcorn: butter, extra butter, white cheese, caramel, more butter, kettle, cracker jack, and super extra butter.  But I have never in my life seen peach.  Or worse, look down at the next picture: banana.  What would peach popcorn taste like??  I didn't want to waste the money to find out, since I can guess that it can't be wonderful.  I'm a little afraid of the 'spicy salted' since the people around here just love food that is so hot that you can't breathe. (I've learned to watch out for the flecks of red chili peppers in my food). Colonel said they bought some of the strawberry variety to give it a try.  He said he had one big mouthful, choked it down, and then said, "Hey kids! I've got a special treat for you!"  Kids will eat all sorts of things if you tell them that its a special treat.  I bought a regular butter version.  At Walmart, I bought another one that is labeled "creamy salty."  I'll let you know how that turns out.  

Bananas, apples, oranges, and pineapple are common here.  No surprise there.  However, there are a few unusual fruits that I've never seen at fruit stands or supermarkets in the U.S.  There are durian, which are cantaloupe-sized fruits covered in spikes.  They say they have a terrible smell when opened up.  I especially like seeing the dragon fruit.  I saw them for the first time several years ago in a huge fresh-food market of the Ramblas in Barcelona, but I could never remember the name in Catalan.  They told me that those came from South America somewhere.  I saw them again here in the grocery stores.  They're quite striking--hot pink, with bright green tips.  Opened up, they are white with black specks.  I tried one back in Spain that time, and it was a bit sour for my taste, a bit like a kiwi.  I've tried a few other fruits here, but not that I know the names of.  Oh, and a new favorite: white carrots, they call them.  I'm not sure exactly what they are.  Cooked, they look a bit like chunks of potato; they have an amazing warm spicy taste.  I've got to find out if they're available in the states, because you would all love them. 


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