03 August, 2015

Grocery shopping: the same, but different

Grocery shopping is one thing that is the same . . . and very different about my two lives (in Australia and Japan).

In Australia for the last year my pattern has been a big shop, usually at the start of the week, with a smaller shop later in the week. Usually at a one large grocery store, a fruit and veggie shop, and a butcher. No bulk shopping, no shopping over the Internet, and little running around to multiple food stores (though I know Australians who do all these, though not many). 

In Japan my weekly routine isn't too much different. I shop two or more times a week for fresh food: dairy, fruit, and veg. But the bigger picture is different. 

1. I have multiple choice of about half a dozen small shops within a km or so of my house. 
2. None of these has everything we need (unlike the large grocery stores in Australia).
3. All of these I would usually access on my bike, which has a capacity of about 3 1/2 green environmental bags (sorry non-Australians). I rode home with 25 kg of groceries the other day, that was pushing my limits. 
4. One store I visit two or three times a week, it is most consistently the cheapest on many things I buy regularly. I go to the other stores for things my regular store doesn't stock, for example: capsicum, condensed milk tins, peanut butter (though see the next point on this), tinned peaches (cheaper elsewhere), deoderant, etc. 
5. We buy in bulk too. From a foreign import shop online and from Costco. Things we buy there are
• not available locally, like cheese, granola bars, larger cuts of meat, brownie packet mix. 
• special treats, like pizza, big seedless grapes, chocolate muffins. 
• but mostly just cheaper, like peanut butter, tomato sauce, washing detergent, plain corn flakes, choc chips. 
Bulk shopping happens less often, Costco is about every 8-10 weeks. Online import shop only two or three times a year. 
6. There are other things we buy from specialist import shops, like golden syrup. One of these shops is a slightly longer bike ride away.
7. Nearby we have a flour mill, so we buy our flour (plus icing sugar) directly from them in bulk . 
8. Again, slightly further away, but still easily accessible by bike is a store that also sells larger amounts of meat, but also more unusual things like evaporated milk and condensed milk tins, pizza bases etc. I go there periodically, maybe once a month. 

It comes down to a lot of local knowledge, gained by experience and word of mouth (the latter was how we found the number 8 store, but not for a couple of years after moving to this area). 

I'm not sure if I spend more or less time on grocery shopping here. A trip to number four store takes only 30 to 45 minutes, four to door (on my bike). A lot less than a trip for groceries in Australia. Some things also get picked up on-the-way to or from other things, like I used to get milk on the way home from the gym, it was only an extra 10 min in my schedule. 

It does mean you need to think ahead a little. Some things can't just be picked up at the local store. But in other ways many things are very convenient. Especially if you eat less foreign food (though there's a surprising amount of foreign ingredients easily available if you're willing to cook from scratch). 

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