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Published: February 28th 2019
I have a confession to make...I love going to the grocery store in foreign countries. I know it sounds nerdy at best, but I just love to see how other people live and I think the grocery store is a great place to start a true anthropological hunt. Or maybe, it’s just because I love to eat.
Either way, I can’t resist a slow, methodical walk through a grocery store or two. Or, as is the case here in Almaty, I think I walked through four different stores. (I know my typical travel partners just let out a huge sigh of relief they were not by my side on this trip...they are usually fine with one grocery store visit, but can you imagine the looks on their faces when we passed by the fourth store and I said, “Hey, you wanna stop in here?”)
I love the colors and the smells and the hustle of the local shoppers. I love to compare costs and brands and options. I love to buy a few snacks and I love to grab a few novelties. I always check out the candy section, the bakery and the tea section.
I hunt for camel products or brands that incorporate camels.
I glance at the produce sections. I linger near the baked goods, properly soaking up the great smells of fresh bread. And I take a deep breath and examine the meat sections. (I have found that meat sections in other countries can be fascinating, but typically leave very little to the imagination.)
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the grocery stores I discovered. They offered all the usual sections with each department offering lots of options in flavors and brands. The stores felt much more Upper East Side than Communist Russia.
There were prepackaged foods, ready to eat food counters, live seafood swimming about, glamorous bakery counters, graphic and extensive meat counters and more tea than you can imagine. There stations where you could order fresh squeezed juices. Not all of the grocery stores had shelves of liquor, but the ones that did, were not skimping on their selection.
The honey displays were like little art exhibits and so were the candy sections. There was an abundance of canned meats...horse, rabbit, cow and goat. The dairy section was elaborate with
cow, mare and camel milk options. There was fresh milk and fermented milk and more cheese options that you can imagine.
The fresh fruits and vegetables sections seemed a bit anemic when considering the many options and selections in other parts of the grocery store. And the produce seemed subpar. I looked for raspberries in one store and could not find any, so considered settling for strawberries but they looked so shriveled, I left them behind at the store. (Raspberries are not a typical food item I seek when shopping overseas, but I purchased some cheesecake and thought the raspberries would add a little something.)
I passed through one store around lunchtime and the ready made food section was downright crowded. I noticed some customers were simply at the store for lunch. They made their selection, the ladies behind the counter heated up the options per request and the customers went on about their day with lunch in hand.
I had the most fun shopping for my birthday cake. My first thought was to buy one of the gorgeously fantastic cakes that seemed to be in abundance in every store I entered, but my penchant
for liking to try a few bites of many options directed me toward buying multiple slices and a few tiny cakes. I loved how they wrapped them up like little presents in bakery boxes.
Of the all the stores I meandered through, all were sparkling clean and smelled pristine. They seemed modern and actually kind of hip in their decor and selection. They each had some sort of security and each one asked that you left your bags in a locker provided by the entrance to each store.
As was the case with most food in Almaty, the prices were extremely reasonable compared to what we would pay here in the Midwest. A bottle of hipster beer was less than $1. A large candy bar was about $0.50. A bottle of wine was less than $4.
I suppose by the sheer frequency of my visits, it is clear that I enjoyed wandering through and shopping at the local Almaty grocery stores. One thing I discovered, you will not go hungry in Almaty.
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