I Love Grocery Shopping Abroad

Why I Love Grocery Shopping Abroad:
Language Classes in the Groceries, Culture Lessons on the Dinner Tables

I have to confess: I get super stoked with every opportunity to go grocery shopping abroad.

Seems like a very mundane thing, but the grocery store is always a potential cultural lesson.

Food is an important aspect of culture. It is among the best ways to understand the country and the people. It’s always interesting to see different fruits and vegetables, and the type of junk food the locals munch on.

A trip to the supermarket is always a potential language lesson, as well. One trip to Auchan got me twenty words richer in French — pommes, framboise, fraise, oeuf, fromage, aubergines, pain, beurre — you’re learning without even trying!

I wish I could bring home the collection of dairy products I could never dream to find in our local supermarkets; thing I only hear in nursery rhymes such as “whey” and “clotted cream.” I certainly felt more cultured, after having them with my tea and scones.

But after having a sip of their “coconut juice,” I realize how amazingly blessed we are. “This is a scam!” I said, as I grimaced at the “coconut drink” they were selling in European groceries. Bless their beef and their wine, but don’t buy shrimp and mangoes unless you want to be disappointed.

There are plenty of food items that are staple items in the Philippines that I will rarely find in Europe, and if I do, they come with ridiculous price tags — Asian instant noodles, pineapples, mangoes, dried fish, fish paste, and white rice in 20-kilogram rice sacks.

It is indeed amazing how much you can learn about the locale’s culture just by the food; and you don’t need to compare two cultures and two continents apart to realize that. The Philippines itself has amazing variations of food per island!

Let’s take a look at the enduring Filipino favorite that ultimately defines “Filipino”: the adobo.

Do you know that we have at least 20,000 variations of the adobo? I am used to having mine in soy sauce and served with pork or chicken, boiled egg, and black peppercorn and marinated in soy sauce, the Chinese-style version of adobo. In some parts of the archipelago, they can be served with many variants: coconut milk in Muslim Zamboanga, mashed pork liver in Cavite, pineapple in Bukidnon, and turmeric in Laguna!

Another confusion you might encounter is if you order “pochero” in Manila and Cebu you will get two completely different dishes. If you wanted the Cebuano pochero in Manila, you should tell them you want bulalo instead. I had wondered why, until I realized that pochero is Spanish for “stewpot,” a very vague way of describing any dish whatsoever.

Tabirak is my favorite holy week treat back in Mindanao, but Cebuanos never knew what I meant until I described it. I was schooled that they actually call it binignit. Ten years later when I moved to Manila, I re-encountered the problem when the Tagalog could not understand me. After a few Google image searches, I was told that they call it “Ginataang Halo-halo” in this region.

Cebuano friends complain Manila food is too sweet, Manila friends complain that Cebuano food is too salty. Cebuanos cannot comprehend putting sampaloc in their viands, while Manila folks find my love for green bananas completely weird.

You can certainly witness the amazing diversity of our 7,000 islands, just by our dinner tables alone!


My weekly column ‘Postcard Travels’ featuring travel stories is published at Sunstar Weekend every Sundays or you can check out more on the blog or buy my book!

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3 thoughts on “I Love Grocery Shopping Abroad”

  1. Here in Rome there are way too many Filipino and Asian sari-sari store and Filipinos rarely broaden out and buy local products. Grocery shopping abroad definitely broadens one’s perspectives. I enjoyed buying groceries sa pamilihan ng bayan sa bayan ng Filipina misis ko. The Philippines is the paradise for those who like exploring street food and local food markets

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