The First Place You Should Visit When You Get To A New Country
We bet you'll be surprised.
So you just landed in your destination with an expectant heart, a longing for something new, and a list of essential things you want to see and do. But before you get started on that itinerary, how about a trip to… the local supermarket?
I know, I know. You’re travelling to escape the humdrum of daily life and have out-of-the-ordinary experiences, not to reproduce your home routine abroad. But if you approach it with the right amount of curiosity and enthusiasm, the supermarket can turn into a great field of exploration, and (window) shopping in a foreign country becomes an exciting adventure full of insights and discoveries that will inform the rest of your holiday.
Here are five reasons to go grab a trolley and explore the aisles of your new neighbourhood store.
#1 It’s an integral part of the cultural experience
Experiencing the culture of a country is not only about learning its history, touring the main sites, and witnessing colourful traditions. For a complete picture, you also need a glimpse into the locals’ everyday lives.
The most telling differences often lie in the smallest details, and those usually play out in a clear and digestible way on the mundane supermarket stage. Indeed, as food and basic amenities are an aspect of life we’re all familiar with, they’re a great place to start drawing comparisons (or noting differences).
Wander the aisles of the supermarket with open eyes and an open mind and you’ll notice all the tiny quirks in the ways people shop and what they like or don’t. Are there really that many varieties of ramen noodles in Korea, how do Colombians choose from this seemingly infinite range of arepas, do Peruvians really eat all these varieties of potato?!
#2 It can reveal a surprising amount
Not only can a tour of the grocery store provide insight into residents’ eating habits, it’ll reflect many other facets of the local culture and conditions. The range of products stocked and their prices can teach you about the country’s agriculture (for example, Peru produces many different types of corn), its industry, its international relationships and influences (what countries’ goods does/doesn’t it import?), its level of development, and its fashion trends.
In short, it’s a small-scale introduction to the socio-economic reality of the country. And, let’s be honest, you’d rather find out by scanning fruit and veg than reading that boring first chapter in your guidebook, right?
#3 It’s a language-learning opportunity
Whether you’re studying the language of your host country seriously or you’re just interested in learning a few basics to get by, it can be surprisingly difficult to find opportunities to pick up new vocabulary and practise your conversation on a trip abroad. The supermarket gives you the chance to learn plenty of new and essential words interactively.
Knowing the names of ingredients will help you read menus and make more informed decisions at the dinner table (like not accidentally ordering meat if you’re a vegetarian). And, if you’re at a more advanced level, you also get an occasion to dazzle the cashier with your speaking skills.
#4 You’ll Discover New Food
This is probably the most exciting part – think of all the new foods you get to try! From the incredible tropical fruits of South America and the many different greens of Southeast Asia, to the 450-plus cheeses of France or the cured meats of Spain, get ready to say hello to all your future addictions. Hello Norwegian brunost (caramel-flavoured cheese), hello mangosteen (a sweet tropical fruit from Thailand), hello panela (unrefined cane sugar).
If you’re into your food, a trip down the lanes will help you identify all the delicacies you must sample during your stay. And if there’s anything you’ve never seen before and have no clue how to cook it (llama or reindeer meat, anyone?), at least now you’ll know what to order at the restaurant tonight.
#5 You can even Pick up souvenirs
The grocery store is a good place to buy presents and souvenirs – trust us. In fact, you may want to visit the supermarket both at the beginning and at the end of your trip so you can load up on your favourite goodies to take home. While you can’t be sure that your grandmother will love the Kenyan mask or Bolivian amulet you nearly bought at a ridiculous price from that street vendor, the odds are higher that she’ll be pleased with the local pastries.
Food specialties, brews and liquors make solid gifts, and you’ll often find them at much less inflated prices in supermarkets than in souvenir shops. You wouldn’t want your friends to miss out on the experience of tasting Finland’s salty liquorice alcohol salmari, would you?
(Lead Image: Julie Fader / Unsplash)