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Friday, February 15, 2013

Small Wonders: Going Local on Provisioning -- Kinda


Geant is a French-based market
we’ve seen in some Caribbean
French territories like
Guadeloupe.  We confess to
being agog, spending at least
half an hour enraptured by
an entire aisle dedicated solely
to cheese in Guadeloupe’s
Geant Casino, though many
of our regular low-budget
staples, like Top Ramen,
were conspicuously absent.
Where Provisioning Cruisers Commonly Converge
Grande Marche. Geant Casino.  Carrefour.  Epicurious.  All big, prominent Caribbean supermarkets.  The biggest are aptly referred to in our guidebooks as “Hypermarches.” These markets feature bright lights and wide aisles and sometimes some exceptional promotion and closeout sale prices.  They often employ the latest in retail technology, like requiring customers to scan, bag and label produce purchases before check-out. In some places, the shopping carts (they call them trolleys) require a deposit to use, refundable upon return.

These larger markets are consistently touted in our guidebooks and typically conveniently close to dinghy docks. It’s rare we rent a car, so we either walk or bus to groceries and it’s a challenge to transport whatever we purchase.  Admittedly, we’re also lured in by those now hard-to-find items we took for granted at home, like Crystal Light (or for that matter, any sugarless drink mix) and decent sharp cheddar. In islands with a non-Caucasian population of less than 10%, amidst the customers in these markets, we find ourselves in the majority.  They are full of whities like us.  This is not where locals shop.

We strive to shop more like locals, whenever we can, except....

Leader Price is our overall favorite provisioning market.  We
also like that it’s a bag-your-own-groceries-with-your-own-bag
kinda market.  French in origin, we encountered Leader Price on
the more populated French territory islands of Martinique,
Guadeloupe and St. Martin.
For Irresistible Indulgences
Leader Price ably substituted for Trade Joe’s, my favorite value gourmet indulgence, especially with French cheese (click here to read about our love-hate relationship with French cheese), affordable wines (including boxed, very handy for us boat-weight conscious cruisers wanting to minimize the amount of breakable, heavy glass on board), chocolate, sugarless gum, affordable high quality olive oil, vinegars, condiments, sauces, a plethora of value-priced long-storing canned veggies and various and personal care items like toothpaste, hand soap, etc.  Leader price also draws many more locals than the large supermarkets.

“Friendlys” is typical of the hole-in-the-wall markets where most
locals shop versus the much-more cruiser-catering
Gourmet Marche across the street and closer to the dinghy dock.
Little Local Shops
Locals are much more likely to frequent smaller markets.  Characteristically, these markets, like Friendlys, are plain, with narrow cramped aisles, low dimly-lit ceilings, cement floors and claustrophobic.  They carry the basics, and there are no trolleys, only plastic baskets to gather your purchases. Usually, they are run by Asians, and the Asian-run shops seem more likely to carry fresh produce. 

While some are over-priced, the good ones offer excellent prices and are great for provisioning non-perishables, like canned veggies, sugar and cases of beer and copycat liquors like Lordsons gin (a kissin’ cousin to the costlier brand, Gordons). They are not good places to buy most classically American non-essentials like chewing gum, and I’d hesitate to buy refrigerated meat or poultry there, but might consider frozen.

The package implied the egg’s origin was Holtsville, New York,
but they came from a local Nevis dairy, according
to the checker.  I did wonder how the Holtsville packaging
found its way to Nevis.
Imprecise Origins:
Local Products In Disguise
While even these small shops often carry some bar-coded, imported produce, like mangos from Peru, sometimes packaging can be deceiving.  Initially I did not want to buy eggs in Nevis that came from New York; I was hoping to find local eggs on this relatively rural island.  When asked, the checker told me the eggs were indeed local – they just re-used the Styrofoam egg cartons.  I bought the eggs.
Indeed, it would be unlikely a United States
commercial dairy would so randomly mix
white and brown eggs in a carton.  All
white? Sure.  All brown?  Sure.  Half
white and half brown?  Maybe.  But nine
brown and three white? Definitely not.













Open-Air Markets
This Pointe A Pitre, Guadeloupe, produce market was a joy
to shop in, and adjacent to an excellent fresh-fish market.
Since leaving Guadeloupe, except for Nevis (which was small) and St. John in Antigua (which was so stinky, we pulled anchor and relocated to Deep Bay, without waiting the next day to shop St. John’s open air market) and a few scattered vendors elsewhere, I haven’t seen daily open-air markets, much less a boat-to-boat fresh produce vendor like Gregory (click here to read about Gregory), much less the blocks-long massive open air market it Castries, St. Lucia (click here to learn more aboutthat). I miss them badly.  I love the color, the clamor, the variety and even the challenge that open-air markets offer.  “What is that?  What is it used for?  How would I cook with that?” are questions I often have to ask about foods there that I’ve never seen before and may never see again (clickhere to learn about breadfruit nuts), and click here to learn about soursoup and other “alienfruits”). The food was likely picked that day, ripe or near-ripe, not picked green several weeks prior, then shipped for thousands of miles. Best of all, it feels good to buy direct, making a bigger impact on the local economy, buying from a human being, rather than a corporation.

Smuggling Plea – When You Can’t Always Get What You Want
I confess, though, when my in-laws visit from the States, I will likely beg them to smuggle in some Adams unsweetened peanut butter, Spike seasoning and maybe some Crystal Light lemonade mix.  I haven’t seen Spike, my favorite seasoning, or any unsweetened peanut butter since leaving the States.  The tropics are thirsty places, and sugarless drink mixes makes it easier to stay hydrated without sugaring up. It’s rare we find anything unsugared, and when we do, it’s usually quite expensive.

Don’t You Hate It When…
Before we set sail, when I read cruiser’s blogs who whined about missing out on food from home, I scoffed.  “I wasn’t going to be one of those people,” I promised myself.  “I’m going to eat what the locals eat and be happy about it.  That’s part of the adventure.”

I do embrace a lot of local food, but, dang!  I am one of “those people.”  Well, sometimes.