My first visit to a grocery store in Wales was quite the adventure! The size, the cleanliness, the vast array, the lack of being side-swiped by someone’s cart, the recognizable products and brands, the lack of dust coating everything. It was all so delightful. Mom and I spent well over an hour looking at everything, spending most of our time in the chocolates, biscuits and frozen food aisles. I am on a mission to taste-test as many veggie food products as possible to determine what’s worthy of being bought in bulk and brought back (some may deign to use the word “smuggled”) to Cairo. So I chose a few to try – particularly the fake-meat sausages. It’s such fun having so many options! (No particular complaints about our commissary, but any supplemental goodies I can find will be well appreciated – by me.)
In addition to oogling the options and variety, we also had great fun just reading all the different names. English is not always English, and it certainly does vary when it comes to localisms. I mean, you’d never see a product in the states called “Sticky Pud”. But there it was, sitting on a shelf (it’s essentially a bread pudding with a sugary-toffee syrup that’s served hot). Or “Toad in the Hole,” or “Cornish Pasty,” or “Sausage Rolls.” And the flavor variations! It’s not just the wild and crazy salt-n-vinegar crisps (potato chips) anymore. They even had cream cheese that came in flavors such as Thai and lime and BBQ. Odd (we did not try those).
Even some veg have different names. Since I have yet to find any fresh spinach or fresh (or even frozen) sugar snap peas in Cairo, we grabbed some, along with some fresh mangtout (simply snowpeas). Eggplant is aubergine, zucchini is courgette, and if you ask for squash here, you’ll be directed to the soda aisle as it’s typically diluted fruit juice – which I forgot, however quickly remembered when I tried the blackberry-cranberry we bought and found it so thick and sweet my throat practically closed up.
I believe I may have mentioned my partiality to English chocolate and biscuits. You can blame my grandparents for introducing them to me, or you can agree that they’re just better. Either way, I’m delighted to have access to them in Cairo, although it’s apparent we do not have access to all of them. Mom and I checked everything out with great glee. We did not sample everything, but we certainly sampled some – including some wonderful cappuccino Kit-Kats (they also had dark chocolate and orange), German hazelnut or chocolate filled wafer cookies that looked like little hippos, some old childhood standbys of Jelly Babies (far superior to “gummy” foods) and Maynard’s Fruit Gums. Now, all this gorging was not just for personal gluttony, we also took daily treats to the hospital for Uncle Harold (as well as oranges, pears and apples from his own trees -- which I managed to make into my first attempt at tartlets -- and other non-chocolaty items).
In regards to the biscuits and sweeties that are on sale, I will comment that English shops have far more of these for sale than U.S. shops, even on non-holiday days (holidays such as Easter and Christmas make you feel like you’ve wandered into Wonka-land instead of the local grocers). And typically these aisles are often crowded with all ages, from the young grabby children to the elderly carefully choosing their favorite digestive biscuit or chocolate Penguin assortment. And yet despite the volume of sweets that are being consumed, the English are typically rather fit. So it’s either the combination of sweets and a lot more walking than is done in the states, or while distracting us with the Spice Girls and David Beckham, the English have found a way to circumvent calorie absorption and just refuse to share. You choose.
Other shopping ran to the far less fun, but more practical realm of grout paint (I just can’t find any in Cairo and would like to spruce up our bathrooms), cat treats (I know, but Ron did remind me to look as we can only get one flavor at the commissary and the poor deprived fat felines do like variety), and even a small metal trashcan for our compost (as the plastic one I bought recently broke, and when you can actually find a non-metal one in Cairo it’s outrageously expensive – I did verify that the new can will fit in my suitcase and I’ll just stuff it with t-shirts or even fake sausages!).
Now, I will say that the one main, and very important, thing that Cairo has going for it is prices. The UK prices are quite high, higher than the states, and therefore ten times higher than Cairo. So you pay a little more for variety, cleanliness, dust-free products. But I had vacation-brain on, so prices were not a primary concern of mine.
I did end up choosing two fake-meat sausage brands to bring home – nine boxes total. When I was asked at the airport if I had any food, I quietly said, “Some chocolates and … uh, vegetarian food.” No one blinked an eye, or even rolled one.