Recently, I moved into my own flat in Shanghai and had to go grocery shopping. No big deal. Except, I walked into Carrefour, and started to panic somewhat. I was faced with the harsh realization just how white I am. This was the first time I ever had to grocery shop in Asia. I went through my usual staples in my head: sandwich meat, toast, milk, cheese, yogurt, spaghetti, tomato sauce, canned soup, frozen pizza, peanut butter, jam – and I realized all of these things are considered luxury items in China, and sold at an extreme premium. Oh no.
I perused up and down the isles at the store, looking at the Chinese food that I normally would be excited to see. I tried to figure out which items would become my new staples. The fact that I am Taiwanese did not help me at all. Total culture shock. Some of you may be thinking, “Come on, you lived in Africa.” Yes, but given the colonial history, Cameroon actually had a much more Western influence than China. I could easily find baguette, spaghetti, tomato sauce, cheese (Laughing Cow/Vache qui rit) at corner stores in my village!
After posting my lament for white people food on Facebook, a former Shanghai-dweller, Leslie, told me about The Avocado Lady – apparently a hole in the wall shop that carries Western products. After finding Campbell’s soup for nearly US$10 at the fancy expat store near my house, I dragged my Australian friend to check out this lady.
True to form, it was a totally unassuming store on a street that was very local. The only reason we knew we were at the right place was because of the few foreigners lingering about. If I had just walked by it randomly, I never would have thought this place has such gems! The lady sells these imported goods at a small premium, because she pretty much just finds any shelf space that she has and pile the goods on it. No fancy displays, labels, nothing. We don’t mind. It also makes for a fun game of I Spy while scanning your eyes across huge piles of goods.
The goods don’t have prices labeled. You have to ask. Most of us in there didn’t seem to care about the prices. We just load up our baskets, and then are pleasantly surprised with the final sum when the lady adds the total up with pencil and paper. I also love that she has a nice variety of fresh produce and fruits. So, on top of loading up on Nutella, cheese, and ranch-flavor chips, I can get some fresh mandarins and veggies!
I love the fact I can get delicious 包子 (bao zi) for 1.2RMB (2 cents USD) each, but the white person in me is also much comforted to know where to seek my comfort food when I need them!