Island shopping is not for the faint hearted or weak. The weekly grocery shop on an island is almost a sport and a feat of mental strength. My husband joined me last weekend and he is still laying down in a darkened room, gently sobbing. He didn’t even do the full circuit either!
You need to be mentally and emotionally strong for the roller coaster that you will encounter as you set off with a list in hand. Be prepared to make snap decisions on that list and get ready to make variations in your meal planning. Having to drive to the other side of the island for a few items that you suddenly can’t get in your regular store will become natural and a necessity. I should add that I am a food blogger and have a specific set of ingredients I search for, but my woes are also those of the “regular” shopper.
Back in the UK I would happily do most of my grocery shopping online and get it delivered at a convenient time with perhaps a visit to another supermarket for cheaper vegetables. I don’t really like ordering vegetables online as I like to choose them myself. If the avocado has not been squeezed and examined by me, I cannot buy it. I was also lucky that I had a lovely farm shop nearby which was a pleasure to shop in too. Dubai was a similar shopping experience and the weekly grocery shop was an easy enough task mainly done in one supermarket with a relaxed weekend visit to a farmer’s market. I never realised how spoilt I was. Well, I had suspected it for a while, but moving to an island confirmed it.
To begin with, living on an island means that a lot of products are imported. So you are at the mercy of the shipments coming in on time, being processed by customs, hoping that customs are not on strike, then the shipment finally reaching the stores. If you get too attached to a particular brand or product it can disappear overnight and not be seen for months.
One of our friends who has lived in Barbados for many years, told me of the time a ship had spilled some of its large containers with grocery deliveries into the ocean. The island delivery of cat litter was in one of those containers and suddenly there was an island wide shortage of cat litter. Since she had a lot of cats it was panic time as she drove all over the island searching every small shop in the hope of a bag of cat litter. Then it was a challenge of using a natural alternative. This story goes through my mind every time I shop for cat litter so I put an extra bag in the trolley. Just in case.
Imported products mean expensive shopping so if you are on a budget as we are, you need to know where the best prices are too. Of course these shops are not placed together either! Different shops carry different brands too, especially the USA and UK imported products. It still makes me smile as I walk down the aisles of one particular supermarket to see “Tesco” products.
Then there is the constant price change. Prices often go up for no real reason from month to month or occasionally within the week. If you see one of your regular products reduced for a special offer there is an urge to cram your trolley with as much stock as you can carry! I still am amazed at the price of a bottle of a UK Rose wine that was $14 for a few months last summer. We rejoiced and popped a couple of bottles in the trolley. On our next visit to the store, the price changed to $24. I know the price in the UK so am still a bit bemused at this massive increase.
The weekly shop involves a few lists and is only for the organised. First the list of all the products and ingredients I need. Then this list is split into the various shops that I can get these. Hopefully. With a big mug of peppermint tea inside me, I’m set for the challenge ahead. It should really be laced with rum, but you need a clear sharp head for the hours ahead of you.
First stop is the vegetable market as the produce is much better quality and cheaper in price. However, they don’t always have what I want so I have to keep in mind that I need to look for alternatives or substitutions in the supermarkets. With my Sainsbury’s reusable shopping bags loaded with vegetables I am off for the next stage.
Now it’s onto the quest of visiting different supermarkets and Costco type stores situated all over the island. When you are looking for a particular item and don’t find it in your first store, you drive over to another store in the hope that it will be there. This can be repeated a few times as you slowly cross off the items on your list. The feeling of relief when I walk into a store to find that they have my bone meal for my dogs is almost a legal high. The panic when they don’t and the sinking feeling that I have to drive to another shop that I had not planned to visit that day which is about a 30 minutes away to see if I can get it there drops my spirits faster than a stone in a glass of water.
There can be the occasionally surprise too when you walk into a store greeted by a range of ingredients that are not on your list because you have not seen them on the island for a while and given up hope of using them again. When I saw a row of fennel one weekend I almost dropped to my knees sobbing as I never thought I would see it on the island. Suddenly my mind went blank as to what recipe I wanted to try with it, and more importantly, would I be able to get the other ingredients for that recipe too. Throw caution to the wind and throw that surprise into the trolley! It won’t be there next week!
That is the trick to shopping on the island. You have to have a backup plan for when you can’t get the item you are looking for. Or just never cook and eat out!
I often moan that I miss the dynamic and fast paced world of corporate finance, but on reflection, doing the weekly shop gives me that same buzz of planning and dealing with sudden decisions. I am just doing it in shorts, t-shirt and flip flops instead.