At home, I’m quite a snob. I rarely go to the conventional supermarkets like Safeway or the supermarket formerly known as Lucky’s that became Albertson’s that became Lucky’s again. But when I’m travelling, it’s always fun to check out supermarkets and see what types of products serve local demand. (Also, I like trying local brands of plain yogurt and milk, because they all taste different everywhere.)
I actually look forward to going to KTA supermarkets in Hawaii, because it just feels so neat to be able to get very ‘Hawaiian’ things like POG, and ahi poke, lomi-lomi salmon and even prepared poi in the refrigerated section (I never buy prepared foods in supermarkets at home). You could have a DIY take-out luau meal without going to a hotel! The macadamia nut selection is much more diverse (wasabi flavored, chocolate-AND-coconut coated, etc).
Even things available at mainland supermarkets like coconut pudding and dried plums, seem enticing, just because they have a Hawaiian name like ‘haupia’ or ‘li hing mui’!
Joe’s favorite KTA memory is probably of us having Vienna sausages and instant noodles for dinner on the last night of our honeymoon. He was a little disapointed that we didn’t have Vienna sausages again on this trip. My meat product of choice, however, is Spam.
On this visit, I got a slice of the haupia cheesecake from the bakery section (which didn’t end up tasting as good as the haupia pie I had ten years ago.) I also couldn’t resist a slice of what looked to be a version of a favourite childhood desert of mine: lime jello cheesecake.
It was a desert that my Auntie Pauline made with a top layer of translucent lime-green jello, a creamy middle layer of downy-yellow lemony cheesecake, on a crunchy/crumbly base of walnut crust. (The optional whipped cream frosting on top was usually omitted.) Everybody in our family loves it. It sounds bizarre, but the citrusy (OK citric-acidity) of the jello cuts the richness of the cheesecake perfectly. And it’s actually not too sweet.
It’s a very 1960’s/70’s desert, what with so many processed food ingredients, like jello mix, pudding mix and philly cream cheese (anathema to today’s made-from-scratch, organic/fresh everything ingredients sensibility) But I like it just as much as Minnesota salad, its Thanksgiving brethen.
In fact, I liked this desert so much I wanted to have it as the ‘cake’ for our wedding. Things was, it was a lot of work; we had a lot of guests (who would probably want seconds and thirds); I wouldn’t have time to make it. And of course I couldn’t ask my aunt to make it: not only would it be too much work for her, she wouldn’t have time anyway, since her son was getting married the week after us!
My aunt gave me the recipe a few years ago, but I haven’t made it too often.
Anyhoo, the KTA version wasn’t as good (no surprise). The cheesecake layer was green and not as rich. The crust was plain graham, no nuts. Still I was nostalgically pleased to encounter Auntie Pauline’s desert in Hawaii.
Interesting things I’ve encountered in ‘foreign’ supermarkets (actually, you don’t have to travel far too visit them, the Bay Area is chock full of ‘ethnic’ supermarkets)
India: ‘hot chips’ Slices of bitter melon, sliced and deep fried until dry and crunchy, generously coated with a layer of spicy powder. The complete opposite red-can pringles.
Bangkok: Peeled, ready-to-eat pomelo wedges. Peeling pomelo is such a pain, trying to get all those bits of pithy-membrane off. I don’t know how they do it in professional supermarkets that make it look so nice and intact, instead of nicked, juicy and pulpy like when I do it at home. (I pretty much don’t eat pomelo in the US, because I’m too lazy to DIY) It probably involves some chemical process that I wouldn’t want to know about, or people with fingernails longer than the Ci Xi Tai Hou’s (double I don’t want to know about).
(Come to think of it, I’ve also always wondered how they get those membranes off the oranges in those cans of Geisha mandarins?)
My dad and I were at the supermarket once, when we realised that we had to bring something to a Loy Krathong potluck in 30 minutes, and grabbed a bunch of packages of RTE pomelo. They were the first things to be polished off at the party.
Washington DC: Utz Crab chips. They’re potato chips with some sort of ‘crab boil’ flavoring. They were very vinegary, and very, very salty and absolutely crustacean-free!
Japan: Curry rice. OK, this is only interesting if you think curry only comes from India
Germany: Bottled shandy (lemonade and beer). Especially the brand that has a bicycle on it! Apfelschorle, which is a mix of sparkling mineral water and apple juice (as opposed to Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider, which is just carbonated apple juice.) Of course the Germans have other interesting concoctions like spetzi , which is a mix of cola and orange soda pop. I used to order this a lot, mainly because I got a kick out of saying “shpet-si”! Now I get my kicks more from saying ‘curry-wursht’!
Mexico: Chili-lime flavored chips and puffs (with the corresponding green food coloring) were a novelty when we saw them in 2004, but they’ve since come state-side and even crossed over to mainsteam American supermarkets (without the food coloring).
Asia: I’m always slightly disoriented to see American and European products on equal footing on the shelves of supermarkets in Asian cities. (At home you see regular (American) products at Safeway, and overpriced ‘European’ delicacies at Cost-Plus or specialty stores.) But of course, with expat populations from both sides of the Atlantic, it makes sense to shelve the McVities digestive biscuits next to Oreo cookies, both at equal-opportunity inflated/import prices.
Global brands, local specialities: Heinz is known for ketchup here, but did you know they’re also a brand of baby food in China? Knorr, which was originally a European brand universally known in Asia for its chicken bouillion cubes, also makes instant congee mixes. (That’s what we got served in a Vietnamese B&B for breakfast!)
I wonder what was the reaction of the first American who saw Cup O’Noodles in the supermarket?