Some food stores cater to expats, but prices are hefty

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There is a small chain of supermarkets aptly named “Lucky.”  It carries many groceries from the United States, but it is legend among expats here for its high prices.

Although Lucky carries items such Skippy peanut butter, Barilla pasta and Haagan-Dasz ice cream, we have to dig deep to pay for such things.

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Prices are in dollars per 100 grams.

For instance, a small jar of Skippy runs $4.90.  A small container of Hagaan-Dasz goes for as much as $18 — that’s not a typo — and 1.1 pounds of Barilla spaghetti is ours for $2.  I purchased a small jar of Hellman’s light mayonnaise for $4.30.  When I buy a five-ounce can of Bumble Bee solid white tuna fish with spring water, I pay $2.60, not bad, all things considered.

Much of the paltry selection of important cheese is sold by the hundred grams, or less than a quarter pound, for very high prices.

The last time I looked at a container of Driscoll strawberries, which obviously must be flown in, the price was $16.  I’ll wait until an overseas vacation for that fruit, thank you very much.  Same for Hagaan-Dasz, especially since local ice cream isn’t half bad and is better than half good.

The problem is less about prices than inventory: It can be weeks and weeks after the stock runs out for items to appear on the shelves again.  So we hike not so far to another, smaller chain called “Pencil” when necessary.  Pencil?  Odd, but I can’t say why it is so named.  Or there’s Paragon in a depressingly half-empty mall of modest size with the store itself always proving to be emptier.

This mammoth supermarket has just opened in a brand-new mall developed by Aeon, a Japanese firm with enterprises all over Asia.

This mammoth and appealing supermarket has just opened in a brand-new upscale mall developed by Aeon, a Japanese firm with enterprises all over Asia.  Its pices are similar to Lucky’s.  In its first couple of weeks, the mall already has achieved enormous popularity, and more are planned in Phnom Penh.

We have been advised that the best thing is to buy more of everything we need when we see it.

That turned out to be good advice that we didn’t originally follow when we ran out of the sole available premium orange juice, Florida Natural, on which I depend to take my vitamins in the morning.  I had to settle for that thin, bland stuff that is more drink than juice for a month. Now, we buy two at a time.  Price: $4.40 for a liter, or 34 ounces.

IMG_3056Other provisions are astonishingly inexpensive, and they fall into the category of wines and spirits.  The selection of wine is fairly limited, though a number of them from Australia and New Zealand is offered.  A liter bottle of Sapphire gin costs me a mere $11, thanks to low or nonexistent tax.  Yet the same volume of Grey Goose vodka is, unaccountably, $22, still far less than anyone who likes the stuff forks over in the U.S.

Some things are just not available.  If extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil is available, I haven’t been able to find it.  Turkey products are among the missing as well, with the exception whole frozen turkeys that appear at appropriate times of the year.  Lacking an oven, roasting would not be an option for me.

When we buy familiar labels, we often discover that they are written in other languages such as Vietnamese or Thai, suggesting that the standards may be lower than in the U.S. and usually omitting translation.  So far, however, we have encountered no noticeable compromises.

(I’ve appended a number of photos I snapped in Lucky to give you a better idea of what can be purchased.)

We also can find groceries in smaller stores.  There is one called Thai Huot three blocks away. Until competition reduced their number by one after a couple of months because of an uninviting selection, there were three nifty organic-produce stores within a few blocks of us. The remaining ones are fine.

I can obtain in them a variety of good lettuce, tomatoes, other produce, decent packaged bread along with baguettes and groceries such as those available in bodegas near my former home on the Upper West Side and elsewhere.  Bagels (generally plain) can be found in those stores as well as here and there, though I am not encouraged to try one.  Sure I’ll be disappointed at least by their texture, I’ll hold off until my visit to New York this fall.

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There’s also a diminutive place (now in the process of expanding into the adjoining store) halfway to my gym, where shipments from the West arrive periodically.  It is called “U.S.A. Donut.”  Some folks maintain that it offers superb hamburgers along with those donuts, but I couldn’t say.

The selection of other items at U.S.A. Donut strike me as variously quixotic or eccentric.  And they are intermingled in ways that make no sense to me.  We might find Vitamin E oil next to Clorox next to quality fruit preserves.  On second thought, maybe that does compute.

Below, the promised additional photos.

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Partly because our Western-style kitchen area and its accoutrements are rudimentary by my standards, I find myself barely motivated to cook with the same relish as I experienced in my life in the States.  However I did manage to find easily some Hunt’s plum tomatoes, plus tomato paste and sauce last week.  I was inspired to use them as the foundation of a pasta dish I made with a box of fusilli that I got at Lucky.

The result: Damn fine, if I do say so myself.

E-mail: malcolmncarter@gmail.com

 

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