Thursday, October 10, 2013

Grocery Shopping, Island Style: A Sample List

Provisioning in the islands is not always easy.  No two Caribbean grocery stores are the same and more often than not you have to adjust your shopping list based on what is available rather than what you want or need.  Some islands are known for their provisioning bounty: Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, many of the French islands, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Grenada are all places where you can stock up on many of the supplies that you would probably be able to find at home (at a price and with some exceptions, of course and each to varying degrees).  All of the above have grocery stores that *somewhat* resemble those we are used to back home and offer things like feta cheese, bagels, frozen pizzas, corn tortillas and Glad brand garbage bags (random list, I know - but you get the gist).  Most islands, however, do not offer this sort of grocery shopping experience and the stores themselves are usually very small, spartan and you are certain to find expired items on the shelves, collecting dust.

The grocery stores here in Union Island, for example, are somewhere in the middle.  They provide you with some great staples (and maybe a few bonus extras), but leave a little to be desired when it comes to items that are a little more "specialized"*.  To give you an idea, here is a semi-typical grocery list of the items that I "wanted" during this last provisioning run, and what I was able to get.  Most island towns have fabulous outdoor markets where you buy your fresh produce, so we typically buy only staples from the store(s).  It should also be noted that this is not a "big" provisioning run, just a replenishment of items we need more of since we'll be going to a few places without any grocery stores to speak of.  I won't even bother to look for specialty items such as pure orange juice, veggie burgers, specialty cereals (like Kashi), tapenades, cottage cheese, or anything other than canned pasta sauces because I know from experience I won't find such things here.  Anyway, here's my most recent shopping list to give you an idea (probably looks a lot different from that of a landlubber!):
  • Red beans/kidney beans (canned) x 2 - pretty safe bet.  These are everywhere
  • White beans/navy beans (canned) x 2 - was unable to source these
  • Green beans (canned) x 2 - easy to find
  • Olive oil - easy to find, about $10 US for a 16 oz. bottle.  I wanted a big bottle but couldn't find one.
  • Sesame oil - I knew I wouldn't find this, but boy do I love this oil for stir-frying and Asian dishes!
  • Salt/Pepper grinders - I was surprised that I was able to find these.
  • Peas (canned) x 2 - I bought pigeon peas (local) but they also had regular sweet peas.
  • Apple cider vinegar - found.
  • Tortilla chips - nowhere.  Probably won't get these till Bequia or St. Lucia.  Or Mexico.
  • Evaporated milk - easy to find just about everywhere.
  • Oats (bulk style) - Quaker style quick oats. You won't find the individual packs but making oatmeal from scratch is cheaper, easier and you can get more creative with toppings/flavors!
  • Whole milk (long life) x 3 - in Grenada I was able to give Isla organic whole milk, but once traveling, we have to drop the organic and go with the long life stuff.
  • Sliced bread - not the sort we're used to, but locally made and fresh.  We bought ours yesterday from the "bread man" who sells it in the back of his van.  Not sliced, but a nice whole wheat loaf.  Note: local bread, because it has no preservatives, doesn't last anywhere near as long as the stuff loaded with preservatives (which is just fine by us).
  • Eggs - easy to find everywhere, either refrigerated or not (if you don't have refrigeration you can buy and keep eggs that have never been refrigerated for a month or longer by coating them with vaseline and turning regularly).
  • Apples x 6 - no dice.  Looks like I'll have to find a new early afternoon snack to replace my apple/peanut butter one.  Bummed.
  • Grapes - I knew I wouldn't find them.  In fact, they only exist down here in the "big" grocery stores and are very expensive.  Same with blueberries (which are about $7 for a small pack).
  • Mangos x 4 - duh.  These are everywhere.  Literally, everywhere.  There are different kinds though, so try them all because some are better than others!
  • Bananas x 4 - easy to find.  Isla loves her "nanas".
  • Plantains x 4 - easy to find. 
  • Cucumbers x 2 - at the market, not as green as we're used to back home in the land of "perfect" fruits and veggies.
  • Green Peppers x 3 - found. Much smaller than we're used to, about half the size of those in the US.
  • Potatoes (bag) - again, easy - but they are smaller than those we're used to at home.
  • Onions - small white ones are easy to find.  Red, not so much.
  • Tomatoes x 6 - sometimes tricky, but the market had them.  They are very small, not like the giant ones we are used to back home.
  • Lettuce - hit or miss at the market.  Today was a hit.
  • Butter - easy to find as well, but if you like margarine or some other butter substitute, it can be harder in some places.
  • Crackers - I prefer water crackers or similar, but they only had a ritz style cracker available. 
  • Dried fruit - I wasn't sure what I would find, but managed to get some cranberries.  Isla loves snacking on dried fruit when we're out an about or underway.
  • Flavored soda water x 6 - we fell in love with raspberry flavored soda water (calorie/caffeine free) and first bought it here, so we knew that we'd find it.
  • American cheese slices - I was surprised to find this and it wasn't originally on my list, but I got some because it was available.
  • Cream cheese - Also very surprised to find this, but we got some. 
  • Corn tortillas - Nope.  Looks like I'll have to make them from scratch.
  • Feta cheese - I knew I wouldn't find this, but it's on my list. The only cheese you are guaranteed to find in these parts is Anchor Cheddar (a New Zealand white cheddar cheese, which is decent - but not my first choice in the cheese department)
  • Cheddar cheese (shredded or block) - no go.
  • Salsa - was surprised to find this, it wasn't on my list but when I saw it I got a jar.
  • Beer - no matter where you go in the islands, you can count on finding beer.  It might not be the IPA or micro-brew you love, but it will be beer none the less.
All in all we visited two grocery stores and made one trip to the outdoor market.  The whole ordeal took us a more than a couple hours to complete which is pretty standard when you go through the grocery store with a fine-tooth comb and have two rambunctious toddlers in tow!  After being around these parts for a while, I am now used to provisioning "island style" and have adjusted my palette (and grocery list) accordingly.  We eat great aboard our boat and while I would probably shed tears of joy (and lots of money) if a Trader Joe's magically appeared, we do just fine without him.

* There is a very small "Captain Gourmet" grocer here in Union run by a French couple that we usually love (they have lots of specialty items like baguettes, wines and other French and non-French delectables) but they were closed because it's still "low season". 


Lisa said...

I have never heard the Vaseline trick with eggs! How interesting...I think here (in Boston) it'd be hard to find eggs that have never been cold, but it's good to know this trick when we eventually get to cruising!

Kim, s/v LAHO said...

It's super helpful to hear what's "easy" and "not-so-easy" to find. Thanks for the tip about the Captain Gourmet grocer during season!

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