Before I ventured miles and miles away from the mass-consumption mecca that is the United States, I didn’t realize how widely grocery stores vary.
When you’re gluten free (or vegan), eating out while traveling can be an interesting experience. Guess what, I’m both! It became a necessity to depend on groceries so that I didn’t completely gorge on french fries (not gf, I know) as my sole source of sustenance.
Now, weird as it may seem, one of my favorite things to do when I touch down in a new place is to scope out the local grocery. Not only do you get to interact with locals at their most grumpy and/or busy, but you also get a feel for what daily living is like. It’s also fun to recognize familiar brands in different languages or see different cultures’ versions of particular foods.
International Grocery Stores Roundup
Living in Oxford for 6 months made me a quasi-expert on the differences between UK and US groceries. During our study abroad orientation, they even made sure to point out how baffled Brits are by the sheer enormity and endless options of US groceries.
The DL: Why are these places so small? Okay, not all of them. I have a personal preference for Tesco (Sainsbury’s had a scummier feel), but could never find produce that I was a huge fan of.
- Meat packaging. You’ll know it when you see it.
- Eggs are not refrigerated (Handy knowledge to bring back to the US for more refrigerator space. Why the heck do we do this in the States?)
Ehrmagerd (are people still saying this?): Waitrose. You need to visit a Waitrose if you’re a grocery store fan. Seriously, it’s like walking into a UK grocery heaven. So pleasant. So pristine.
Blech. I have never been to a smaller/smellier/busier grocery store in my life. We visited twice and literally could not breathe until we had escaped the fresh foods section.
If you’re claustrophobic, certain Lisbon grocery stores may not be for you. Still worth a visit though and will make you appreciate the almost clinical cleanliness of most grocery stores in the US (Whole Foods, I’m looking at you).
The markets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were a highlight of our trip. Sure, there are lots of smells. Yeah, you’re wading through a hot, steaming crowd of strangers, a strong odor of dung accosting your senses every other foot, dodging random trash piled up in the center of roadways. But darn is it beautiful.
Glistening Jewish pastries abound (rugelach! challah!). The most beautiful collections of colorful candy and nuts you’ve ever seen stretch far into the distance (Who cares if you distinctly saw multiple flies land on that gummy shark? It’s culture, fool!).
The actual supermarkets are the largest of any I’ve been to outside of the US. Not much to say about them, except that they are quite vegan friendly and have a nice amount of gluten free options if you can convince an Israeli to show you where they are. Pareve for life.
Italy has the slightly larger, less smelly version of Portugal’s grocery stores. A little crowded, sure, but not that bad. If I ate cheese or meat or real bread I would probably be very impressed by the options.
Sidenote: The produce we walked past in the open-air markets of Venice was what dreams are made of (If I’m remembering correctly. Venice is stunning in general so I might be confusing the glorious architecture with the fresh fruit).
Israel Market and Lisbon Images by Jenna Brady, 2016