Friday, July 1, 2011

Foreign Grocery Goods in Nepal

Kidney pie, prawn mayo sandwiches, Marmite, treacle.

British cuisine is generally not lauded and celebrated worldwide (except, perhaps, by Brits). During a college summer I spent in London, I was happy to enjoy any British food I could get my hands on, if only because I was so poor that my roommate and I subsisted almost entirely on white bread, jam, and whatever crumbs we could sneak from the pub where we worked. We relished trips to the grocery store, which, due to our nearly nonexistent budgets, were mostly look-but-don't-touch affairs. Eyes wide, we would wander the aisles fantasizing about what wouldn't be before meticulously pricing out the best calorie and volume bangs for our buck...err, pound. That same summer I invested precious pence in a magic marker to color my brown shoes black because such shoes were required as part of our all-black uniform at the pub. And it made sense (cents?) at the time. But that and other stories of foolish frugality are for another post.

I loved those trips to the grocery store because it was such a cultural education to see the foods, flavors, and products on the shelves that differed from what I knew back home. This is coming from the kid who, on family roadtrips to Toronto (this should tell you a bit about my family and how we vacationed -- keyword: glamour), was mystified by the different offerings and stylings at Canadian McDonald's: pizza, soup, French translations, and a maple leaf centered on the golden arches themselves! The exoticism knocked my overweight, prepubescent socks off. Upon discovering that the canucks had adopted the convention of free refills before their American friends across the border, I was ready to apply for citizenship.

Trips to the grocery store here are no less entertaining than my Canadian fast food forays of yore. Nepal is full of new foods, a wonderland for the culinary adventurer. Its grocery stores import foods from around the world that never make it into the typical American grocery store. Here are a handful of my favorites I spied on a recent trip to the nearby Bhat-Bhateni grocery store.

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Liquid ghee (clarified butter) is sold in unrefrigerated bags, which for some reason or another are covered in a patina of oily ghee. Nearby, the shelf is full of other oils (sunflower, soybean, and mustard) also in bags, although oil is available in bottles as well.

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Eggs hang out on this shelf, also unrefigerated and sold in packs of 15 (15?!) or individually.

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This yak butter was refrigerated, but unfortunately was missing a top.

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I found these in the "Thai fruits section." They look like hairy, spiky lychees or sea urchins. Can anyone name them for me?

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For more vim and vigor, try the red ginseng drink or the elixir from Red Bull that looks like it belongs in the pharmacy.

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Still thirsty? Crack open a can of Pocari Sweat Ion Supply Drink. Available in gym sock flavor (kidding!).

Does aloe vera juice sound better? I didn't think so.

Refresh yourself instead with mixed fruit beetroot carrot or mixed fruit cucumber spinach juice. Drink your vegetables, kids!

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Thankfully, mango is a dominant juice flavor here.

Water buffalo meat, or "buff," is a popular stand-in for beef in this country where many consider cows holy and sacred.

I recognize these Indian sweets from all-you-can-eat Indian lunch buffets in the States. I believe they are cheese balls soaked in sugar syrup. Here you can find them in the dairy case next to the butter and yogurt. Can someone help me with the name?

Pickle here is a condiment made of chopped vegetables, fruit, or animal products pickled in oil and spices. Pickle has a very strong, acquired taste, but I find certain varieties quite delicious. The flavors are endless. Choose here from lemon, buff meat, mutton, fish, chicken, and, of course, wild boar.

Seafood lovers, check out the dried prawn pickle, nathli fish, and other vacuum-packed fish. My parents love pickled herring so I am immune to fishy gross outs.

In the sweets/candy section you can find things that have not quite caught on in the US, like packs of tropical-flavored puddings.

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This tiny juice box of black sesame-flavored soy milk brings all the boys to the yard.

Nepal is crazy about "biscuits." Not the buttermilk, dinner roll variety popular in the American South but the British kind we Americans would call cookies or crackers. Bhat-Bhateni has two full aisles devoted to biscuits from around the world.

I may be wrong on this, but I do not think that one can buy toothpaste in the States flavored like eucalyptus, myrrh, chamomile, and sage. Possibly kissable, definitely edible.

OMO laundry detergent, I think you need new marketing experts. I want to meet the genius who came up with "Dirt is good."

What do you think of these products? Weird or weird that I found them weird? What American products do you think people from other countries would find odd? Share with us in the comments!

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