Sunday, June 17, 2007

Grocery Shopping (Ah... When you read the title, that sounds so deceptively simple...)

(Edited on Monday, June 18th at end). Today I needed to do a major grocery shopping trip. Last week I hadn't been able to go, and we were out of a lot of basics. I ended up having one grocery store deliver water, milk and toilet paper yesterday since Chris was gone all day with the car. When possible, I go to a French mega discount store, Auchon, when I really need to stock up--but you need to allow an hour each way to go there (although it does take as little as half an hour sometimes each way) and at least three hours inside the store to navigate the VERY difficult carts, crowds, and long lines. Weekends there's no point in even going; it's just too crazy inside. First thing on a weekday, though, it's great: superb quality, wide variety of products, excellent prices. Chris had to work again today, though, so that wasn't an option anyhow. There's NO way I'd go there the kids (it's the size of 2 1/2 Costcos put together and the carts are too small to hold a child and food).

Chris said he could stay home until 10 a.m., so I rapidly made my list and decided that the best use of my shopping time alone would be to go to the "rinok" (market--part indoors/part outdoors) to get fruits and vegetables. Other things that are sold here include: cheap plasticwear for your house, cheap clothing and shoes, underwear... When I say "cheap" I don't mean "bargain"; I mean poorly-made, low-quality. For some items, like a colander or bucket, this is fine--but this isn't where you'd go "shopping." (This place is also hard with kids--narrow, winding paths, and I have to barter with each different merchant). If shopping in our neighborhood, I have to make a list divided into what I'll buy at these three different places: the fruit/vegetable market; Ramstore, the Turkish supermarket; the elite fancy grocery store, Azbuka Vkusa. Armed with my list, I rushed to the market.

I first bought cashews and pine nuts from the lady on the left. Then I bought basil, mint, spinach and leeks from the man on the left. The merchants inside this hall cost more than those outside, and I only buy here what I can't get outside.
I do NOT buy meat here. It's not refrigerated and it just sits out like that all day! I only buy meat from the fancy grocery store or Auchon (we had food poisoning a few times when we first moved here and I realized very quickly that it worth it to pay much more!). I then bought the bulk of my list from these ladies outside: 2 lemons, a kilo of strawberries, 4 green apples, a big bag of carrots, 6 onions, 1 kilo of potatoes, 3 zucchini, 4 heads of garlic, lettuce, 6 apricots, a kilo of mushrooms. I had to then purchase a kilo of red & yellow bell peppers and celery from two other merchants. All in all, I spent 2, 610 rubles ($100.54). Since it was Sunday morning, it was pretty deserted and it was easy to park. During the week it is very hard to park here; it can take an hour to park and run in to just get a few things. The prices are so much lower than at the fancy grocery store, though, that I really have to come here. During the summer there are corner vegetable stands, but the selection never includes everything you'd need. I almost never buy produce from the Turkish supermarket b/c half the time it's rotten. I then sped home so Chris could leave. Total time spent: 45 minutes.

I then had no choice but to bring both girls with me to complete the shopping. (I can't go tomorrow since the man we're paying to register the car will have it with him all day). We headed to Ramstore, the Turkish supermarket. When we first moved here, this store hadn't yet been built and it was soooo hard to shop! I also had no car! My only choice was to shop at the fancy grocery store and pay exhorbitant prices, or use taxis/hitchhike to get to other supermarkets. Sometimes I'd take the subway and transfer to a bus to get to the Auchon, the French discount market--and then take a cab home completely loaded up. (That was very hard, though, since the shopping carts aren't large enough to be able to purchase all I needed--and I didn't initially have anyone to help me with the kids). We were thrilled when this Ramstore was built. It's a big box-type building with other shops inside, too: a Russian version of the Body Shop; Swatch; a video/ music store; a sparcely-stocked pharmacy; a sock store; an eyeglass shop; a mobile phone shop; a dry-cleaner; a Hallmark; an Accessorize (English chain); and other random shops that sell flowers/high-heeled boots/sewing supplies.

The "Ramstore" part of my grocery list usually includes non-perishables such as detergents/household stuff, water, juice, milk, cereal, bread, pasta, frozen food (n.b. the first year the store was open, the frozen stuff seemed to have been thawed and then frozen.... the quality of the frozen dept. has definitely improved, though, so I'll buy frozen veggies and nuggets here now). My list today included laundry detergent, cleanser for floor and toilet, dish detergent, trash bags, rice, juice, olive oil, pasta, popcorn, canned tomatoes, canned peas, cocoa, 3 chocolate bars, 1/2 % 1/2, nuggets, kleenex, cough drops, cheese for the girls, yogurt, coffee beans, iced tea, whipped cream and tomato juice. I bought multiples of many of the items and the bill here came to 3,500 rubles ($134.82). Leaving Ramstore, we drove by this corner stand. The girls noticed a pineapple and Katya begged me to get it. Considering that she's sick and has no appetite, I was glad to buy her whatever healthy item she'd like. The pineapple cost 290 rubles. I also found a real rare treasure: zemlyaniki, miniature wild strawberries. I got a pint for 150 rubles. They are AMAZING. These stands are convenient and the prices are usually good--but the food sits out all day uncovered and exposed to pollution... At least the produce doesn't come from Ukraine anymore, so no one brings a radiation meter to test the food (after Chernyobl). Total spent: 440 rubles ($16.95).

We then drove to Azbuka Vkusa, the elite "boutique" grocery store where I usually buy meat. I go to this store last to get whatever I couldn't find elsewhere. My store of "last resort" for a hard-to-find item is usually to Stockmann, the luxurous Finnish chain, but it's in the city's center and it takes another 1 1/2-2 hours to get there and back (but that is sometimes necessary if I need to make a particular recipe and I've located all ingredients except for one... UGH!!!!).

As I was parking in a legal spot on the street, a Mercedes whizzed by me and parked right on the curb--next to another car parked directly in the pedestrian walkway. Moscow is the only city I know of where no one pays attention to parking rules and parks ON the sidewalk, on both sides of the street... It can be really hard to actually fit by when driving on the street between two rows of parked cars... And hard for women with strollers when they're forced to walk in the street because the sidewalk is full of cars! I took this second picture of the family inside the Mercedes... Note how "Mom" is dressed to go grocery shopping... This is soooo typical... And the kids are in designer duds, too... So much of the expensive clothing here is actually so ugly... This same woman will go grocery shopping in winter snow wearing spiked-heel boots. I am always SOOOO underdressed, particularly if just dashing to the grocery store...

Everything in this store looks sooo nice. It's all arranged as if in a gift shop. You can definitely find some basic items at only a slight mark-up (regular white sugar and herbs, for example), but most things are significantly or MUCH more. It's quite amusing to see the high-end items they carry; check out these colored sugars for 879 rubles ($34.20) and the strawberries for 1, 478 rubles ($57.51)! I can't understand buying strawberries from California when you can get Russian strawberries for $2.39/lb. Granted, I bought some of those local strawberries and 1/3 turned rotten within four hours, but considering the price, they were still worth it...

Today I got miso soup mix (only soup Katya will always eat), parmesan cheese, cannelini beans, apple-filled blini (Russian crepes), a baguette, chicken breasts, sundried tomatoes and olives. I had also need cornstarch and a turnip, but couldn't get them in any of the stores. Given how sick Katya is, I can't now go to the Finnish store to get them. The veggie soup just won't have a turnip and we won't be able to make chocolate pudding from scratch afterall (instead I found a mix here). Bummer that I already bought all the other ingredients to make the pudding at Ramstore! Total bill here: 2,000 rubles ($77.04).
We then went home and I brought it all from the car to the building entrance, then up the stairs to the elevator, then home. Katya did fine while out (she had no fever and was bouncy around before we left to shop) but now she's crashing. Dang! But if we hadn't gone, I wouldn't have been able to cook at all today/tomorrow--and I need to get the cooking done for the rest of the week. I'm making a huge pot of minestrone and pesto. I also have ingredients for a mediterranean chicken/pasta dish later in the week. Total time: 2 hours 45 minutes (before I had a car, you had to double that). Total spent: $329.35. (And I'd spent $75 yesterday for delivery of milk/water/juice/toilet paper and $28 the day before for cereal, a few apples and night-time Pull-Ups). UGH! Edited on Monday morning, June 18th. I did end up going to Stockmann (pictured above), the Finnish department store in the center of the city... I was determined to get cornstarch so we could make that pudding... And wouldn't you know it, the whole trip took only 35 minutes (a record!!) and there were FOUR types of cornstarch--and we were able to get a box for only $1.00!!!! You never know... (At other times there might be NO cornstarch). They even had the tortillas we like on sale for $1.50. If I'd purchased a pineapple there instead of at the street corner yesterday, it would have cost $2 less since those were also on sale... Then again, the cheddar cheese there costs $12.20/lb (and it's the only place in Moscow where you can almost always find it--and where the cheddar actually tastes like cheddar). I like going to Stockmann just to see "familiar faces" of groceries you get in the USA--even if I'm not buying them. ($10.50 for a box of American cereal? I think not!). You never what to expect, and there's often something on sale that's a nice surprise. (Katya's surprise today was a toothbrush featuring characters from the movie Cars for $1.75--not that much more than we'd pay in the USA!)

Edited on Tuesday, June 19th. I just went to cook the chicken breasts that I'd purchased at Azbuka Vkusa (the last grocery store visited on Sunday--the one where everything looks so fancy and the prices are quite high). The chicken is only three days old, yet when I took it out of the packaging the smell knocked me over. It was DEFINITELY rotten. Katya was still home sick, so I couldn't bring it back to the store for a new pack (doing so wouldn't have been as simple as in the US, either). Since the trash bin is quite far from our building (perhaps 1/4 mile?), I'm now stuck with the rotten meat until tomorrow afternoon when someone will come to be with Katya.


Rachael said...

Man, I'm exhausted just reading that...I can only imagine what you're feeling.

Can I come for dinner, though? Sounds delicious.

Love the picture of the mom grocery shopping.

kate said...

I did my grocery shopping Saturday morning while everyone Russian was still asleep. We have a good chain here called Okey that I find is MUCH better than Ramstore. We also have Lenta and Metro which are pretty good. (Okey always has blocks of parmesan, for example...)

I turned down $20 asparagus although I'm just craving it...

Our Stockmann's is hit or miss--and very expensive, too.

And you can certainly add St. P to cities with no parking rules--or penalties.

Annie said...

Such fun reading this. Ivanovo had a really nice grocery store added to the mall within the past couple of years - I took photos just to torment the children (all the Russian food they love).

You must like to cook. If I lived in Moscow that would be my big permission to live simply - which my kids prefer anyway. They are happier with a big platter of cut up vegetables, cheese and good bread (something you can get in Moscow that is very hard and expensive to get in Lansing, MI) than anything I "cook".

Sorry about all these comments to posts you wrote months ago. I can't help myself.

I had such fun expanding all the photos and looking at everything closely. Yes! I got my fix for this morning, anyway!