Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Grocery stores

You can buy most anything on the street in Bangkok, especially when it comes to food. Fruit stands abound, along with vegetables, meats, flowers and breads. But it can be a hassle for a US ex-pat to meander around the various street markets and shops collecting grapes here, pineapple there (fruit shops often specialize), lettuce at a third shop... on and on until you end up at the bakery for bread and finally a small grocery for milk. Tiring is part of the issue, but just finding everything is the major difficulty.

So it would seem that a supermarket would be the answer to this day-long dilemma. Yes, it would seem so, but it is not. Thais simply don't like the same foods as we do. I love fried rice, so why can't they love a nice burger? Well, they don't. Fair is fair though, I've decided on a few Thai dishes that I will avoid as well.

Tesco LotusSo I went to the supermarket today. I chose the largest and deepest discount place I know, which is Tesco-Lotus. Tesco is the Walmart of Bangkok. Tesco has a large grocery department along with an interesting array of household appliances, TVs, tools, furniture, CDs, and I don’t know what else. It is a big store, and they have stores all around BKK. There are three within easy striking distance of our apartment. So with all this variety, imagine my surprise as I failed to find paper plates. PAPER PLATES for crying out loud! But then it struck me. What in the world would a Thai do with a paper plate? Most of their dishes are more suited to bowls, and not of the paper variety. Thais love noodles and noodles are a wet dish. So I left Tesco without even looking for Cheezits (Brenda's favorite snack) Thais don't like cheese either so searching for a cheese cracker seemed to be a waste of time after I realized they didn't have paper plates.

Right about now is when some lady reading this blog is saying to herself "Why doesn't he just ask someone where to find paper plates?" That is a second problem that permeates every errand here in The Land of Smiles. Do you know the Thai word for "Paper" or "Plate"? And if you do, do you know if the proper syntax is "Paper Plate" or "Plate, paper?" I happen to know that "Plate, paper would be the correct choice, now if I only know the correct words, and which of the five "tones" in which those words should be uttered. "Five tones" you say. Oh sure. There is the middle tone, low tone, falling tone, high tone and rising tone. Some people tell a joke that "Mai mai mai mai mai" is actually a sentence if you say each "mai" with the proper tone. I don't know about that but I don’t doubt it either.

How's this for an example I do know. Glai with a falling tone means "to be near." Glai with a middle tone means "to be far." Bothe rhyme with “Thai,” and in each, the "L" is more-or-less optional. Remember that Orientals have trouble with the letter "L" so some pronounce it and some don't. And some pronounce it as a sort of jumbled "r."

Ok lady, do you still think I should ask where to find Paper plates?

TopsI did leave Tesco with about half of my shopping list. Bread is easy to find, eggs, milk, even yogurt are most everywhere. But for paper plates, I headed to the next level of grocery store in BKK and that is Tops. Tops is not large, and it doesn't have everything a westerner will want, but it has a lot and it is relatively inexpensive.

For example, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes were on my list and Tesco did not have them. Thais, you see don't eat breakfast cereal either. But Tops has it and they are called "Frosties." They also have "Cocoa Frosties" and a small variety of other breakfast cereals at a fair price.

Fruit is also cheaper at Tops. Cheaper even than some of the street vendors. I bought some grapes at a street side fruit stand a few days ago and paid 300 Baht per kilo after being assured that the grapes were seedless. Keep in mind that I know neither the Thai word for Grape nor the word for "seedless," but if I did, I would certainly ask for "grape,seedless". Not only were my grapes not seedless, but they were also not cheap as
Tops. At Tops, I found grapes of the same basic variety, clearly labeled in English "Seedless Grapes - 150 Baht per kilo." So I overpaid on the street, but again in fairness, the seeded grapes are sweet and excellent.

It also turns out that Tops has paper plates, but what Tops does not have, and never will have is Cheezits. For that you have to go to a store that caters to Farang. In fact, any cheese product is likely to be found at only one of two places in Bangkok. The first place is Villa supermarket. They, like Tesco and Tops are all over town. Unlike Tesco and Tops, I find them very expensive. Notice that this comment is in the form of an opinion rather than an outright statement of fact. You can interpret this any way you like. Just remember that I am from the US where Lawyers get elected to Congress so they can right the law so other lawyers can make millions of dollars presenting law suites all over the country.

The other place that carries cheese products is Carrefour. Carrefour is a French supermarket, so I assume that their cheese will be very good. There is not one near us, so I haven't been yet, but if Villa ever runs out of Cheezits I am certain that I'll have to go. Hmmm, I wonder if French supermarkets consider “Cheezits” Food?

There is one other supermarket that folks talk about and that is Big C. I can’t say much about them as I haven't been there yet but they are supposed to be like Tesco.

UFM is another small chain that cateres to Thai (not Farang) and Food Town is supposed to be cheap, but is it hard to find one, at least in my corner of BKK.

So if you are shopping in BKK, Try Tesco, then Tops, then Villa or Carrefour. And if you are looking for an apartment, you might want to see what sort of supermarkets are nearby. If all you have is a Villa, be prepared to overspend on groceries every time. But at least you'll find what you want.


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