Fahim and I do most of our grocery shopping at Arpico, a department store with a grocery section and fixed prices.
Why is fixed prices important? Because I’m white. And being white in this country means that shop & stall keepers quote me 3-20x the price they would charge to locals. If my brown Sri Lankan husband were with me, they still quote that much. He’s paler than most Sri Lankans – he’s a programmer, a geek, and you know they never see the sun 😉 – and think he’s a foreigner, too. It’s only when my mother-in-law is with us (wearing a sari, no less) that we start getting local prices. She haggles, she argues, all in Sinhala or Tamil, she gets her way, and she knows what a fair price is. And she intimidates people. 😀
But because I’m white, even if I spoke the language and knew what a fair price was, I would never get it here. It just doesn’t happen. And that’s why we don’t shop at the produce stands where all prices are negotioable.
Arpico. And this isn’t Arpico, but all grocery stores, and really, not just grocery stores, but all stores and shops. Sometimes they have something, sometimes they don’t. Stores do run out of things here – inventory control is not a fine tuned art like it is in Canada. And sometimes the produce is good, sometimes it’s iffy. We don’t go grocery shopping on the weekends because a. stores are packed and b. produce is even worse.
When grocery shopping, I can’t plan in advance what I’d like. What we get depends on what’s available and what’s good. And produce doesn’t stay good here for that long. Heat and humidity don’t help, but there’s also bugs, like worms, in the food. Which you probably didn’t want to know about. 😀 But I think one of these days, I ought to photograph ’em and share. 😀 Because I am that mean. 😀
The result? I plan what we’re going to eat based on what’s available and what’s good. I also plan our menu based on what produce is going to go bad the fastest. That means pak choy by day 2 or 3, cauliflower by day 3, beans by day 4 or 5, but carrots can usually last until day 7 or longer if they’re not old. Uncut squash can last a month, as can potatoes. Onions about three weeks. It’s an art. 😀
I also stock up – to a limited degree – on things like milk powder, sugar, flour, spices. To a limited degree because of bugs, heat & humidity, mold, and so on. But that’s a whole other topic. 😀
We get some imported food. Mayonnaise. Fruit like apples & oranges. Potato chips. Cheese. Milk powder. But, like all food here, selection is not even remotely approaching extensive – you get what you get and be happy with it or do without. At its most extensive, I saw four kinds of mayonnaise, for example, from two different companies. I’ve only seen perhaps a dozen varieties of imported cheese total in the six years I’ve lived here.
I mentioned Arpico earlier. We shop there most often because it tends to have the best selection and freshest produce. And yet, while Arpico is quite possibly the largest store in terms of floor space, it’s only about as big as, say, four Coles bookstores in the average Canadian mall. Despite selling not just groceries, but household items (plastics, appliances, dishes), gardening supplies, hardware supplies, clothing, furniture, and who knows what else.
Other grocery stores here, like Keells or Food City, are around the same size as an average 7-11 in Canada or the US.
Yeah, not at all like major cities in Canada where the super grocery stores (just the stores, not the parking area) cover a greater area than, say, the huge national zoo here.