In a Foreign Country, Do You Enjoy Visiting a Grocery Store?

Somehow, I’d never noticed how interesting I found it to visit grocery stores in foreign countries.

For some reason, this didn’t occur to me as a “real” thing to do, so I never thought about it — and never went out of my way to visit a grocery store when I was traveling.

The other day, though, some friends and I got in an animated discussion about the joy of visiting grocery stores while traveling.

And I realized, “This is a real thing, other people feel the same way! It’s fun to visit a grocery store in a foreign city. It deserves to be a proper stop, just like a museum or a monument.”

It’s a window into a different culture. It’s fascinating to see the unfamiliar packaging and food items.  I still remember the first time I saw unrefrigerated soft cartons of milk in a French supermarket.

Now that I’ve consciously realized how much I enjoy doing this, I’ll make sure to do it on every trip.

How about you? Do you like to visit grocery stores when you travel? Are there other things you like to do, as well as the traditional sight-seeing, as a way to engage more deeply with a new place?

Having new experiences boosts happiness, but it’s not always easy to figure out ways to allow the newness to penetrate.

Speaking of traveling, here are 9 questions to ask to show your interest in someone’s big, life-changing trip.

  • Michelle

    I agree, I love visiting grocery stores in other countries! It’s fun to see the little details of everyday life in a foreign place, and not just the big tourist attractions.

  • Gillian

    Any sort of store in a foreign country is an interesting peek into daily life there.

    However, for me the best is to visit a local farmers’ market. Most markets in Europe have existed, with little change, for generations which creates so much authentic atmosphere. Our North American farmers’ markets are terrific but most haven’t been established much more than a decade, especially in the west, so don’t have that sense of permanence and tradition. When I visit my husband’s family in Germany, one of the first things I want to do there is go to the market on Saturday morning. It is an open-air market that operates year-round and is especially atmospheric in the winter.

  • Elaine N.

    Yes! I love the grocery stores in foreign countries, especially the crazy department store basement food markets in Japan! Also, when I travel around the U.S. I try to hit up a Whole Foods, since they’re really good about stocking local items. It’s a great one stop shop for really tasty local products!

  • Oh yes! It certainly is one of the highlights of visiting a foreign country! Last week I had the chance to spend a few days in Finland and browse the aisles there! I was especially surprised by the amount of gluten-free products! So Finland is a recommender for those among us who are on a special diet. 🙂

  • Maria

    Absolutely! When I got to the US I couldn’t wait to go to the supermarket and see the different products that were only here – and to try them out!

  • I love going to grocert stores when I travel! And it doesn’t even have to be a foreign country: stores around the US have regional differences that are often interesting, too! Moving from southern California to central Texas, it was fun to see all the queso and BBQ sauce in the grocery stores, different kinds of canned beans and chile peppers… you can tell a lot about a place by what they like to eat!

  • Penelope Schmitt

    Well, not being a world traveler, I am more into the pleasure of visiting ethnic grocery stores in U.S. cities. I like to go to Patel Brothers market in Rockville, MD (a Washington, D.C. suburb), to any number of Vietnamese markets in Eden Center at the edge of Arlington, Virginia, to the Mozart Cafe in downtown Washington D.C. (German and Austrian delicacies) and so forth. The treatment of fresh foods may not be the same, but the special products, packaging and ingreedients are so fun. I love to cook, too, so I love to find unusual things and make use of them.

    • Alex

      Cincinnati OH has Jungle Jim’s, which is lots of fun. http://junglejims.com

    • gretchenrubin

      A great example of how you can have the fun of adventure in your own neighborhood.

    • mellen

      In the SF Bay Area we have Ranch 99 which features all types of asian vegetables and products. There are also lots of Mexican markets in the area.

  • Mama_Skywalker

    Totally agree! We love browsing grocery stores while travelling and seeing all the different things. Plus, it’s an economical way to eat – have a picnic!

  • Kathy

    I love visiting grocery stores when traveling. Some great and inexpensive souvenirs can be found there, too!

  • Kate

    I also love visiting grocery stores when I travel. Actually, one of my strongest memories of London was when I was contemplating some “tins” of soup in a grocery store. One flavor was “orange and tomato,” and I remember thinking, “Sounds weird. That must be a British thing.” As if reading my mind, an old man next to me said, in a very British accent, “Orange and toh-mah-toh soup. How odd.”

  • Natalie

    My strongest memory of an overseas grocery store was in China after a lot of quite unfamiliar and challenging foods (especially for small children), finding a box of Cheerios. I’m Australian, we have Cheerios here but I’d never tried them at that point. Still, they looked so familiar and Western! Something the kids could eat for breakfast. It was a huge relief.

  • Amy

    I LOVED the Tesco grocery stores in London–so many useful convenience foods. Cheaper than eating out.

  • Alex

    My sister and I cruise grocery stores in different cities. It’s a bonding activity.

  • Claire

    Yes! I absolutely love visiting grocery stores in foreign countries, and I take pictures of unusual things I find. While we were in Switzerland this summer, my family and I stopped in a tiny grocery store in Wengen to get picnic food to take on our hike. While there, I discovered that boiled eggs in Switzerland are colored to distinguish them from fresh because fresh eggs aren’t refrigerated! It’s like Easter all year long!!

  • It’s one of the first things I do (as well as to the markets). I love to see what other countries consider staples. It’s also interesting from region to region in Italy.

  • Harry Dean Stockwell

    Heck, I even do that when traveling in the US. After spending the first 30 years of my life on the east coast, on my first trip to California I went into a Ralph’s just to see if Hellmann’s mayonnaise really *was* called ‘Best Foods’ when west of the Rockies.

  • Nance Heriford

    I love going to grocery stores when I travel, as well as hardware stores. These are “real” shops supplying the everyday needs of “real” people. Their products are down-to-earth with matching prices. There is always a surprising find or two that I can’t resist. Compare that to those shops catering to tourists!

  • JamieB

    I love this! My first time in Dublin, I visited a grocery store and got a kick out of finding the ketchup in the International Food aisle.

  • Janis & Jeff Jones

    We love to visit grocery stores in other countries – it gives you terrific insights into everyday culture of a place. Also office supply stores, especially in Asia, where they tend to have cool pens and notebooks ahead of the U.S.

  • Shelley Johnson

    I love going to grocery stores and also hardware stores, which are called bricolage in France. A window into another culture for sure. In addition to soft milk packs unrefrigerated, I also found concentrated milk and sugar in a tube to squeeze out like toothpaste, some small size for kids lunchs. So yes, I love exploring as much as going to museums. Thanks for posing that question

  • Tina

    Definitely love it. We love that in Germany that the grocery store’s are smaller with less choices. It’s fun looking at the different packaging (and less of it) and trying to figure out what items are. Also, the fun flavor differences like more curry flavored items and paprika. One thing I don’t love – is making sure we have change to unchain a shopping cart or not being able to get the carts a part.

  • Judith

    We recently spent a week in NY (we are English and live in rural Spain). We stayed in a tiny self catering apartment just off Union Square and shopped in several grocery stores and supermarkets. The sheer amount of choice was overwhelming and fascinating. We walked miles and took the subway and by the end of the week felt as if we had seen a much more realistic view of NY than we might have if we had stayed in an hotel in Times Square. I am not really a city person but could have spent much longer in NY.

  • I love grocery stores! I’ve spent time living in Scotland and we traveled Throughout England. Small villages and large cities, everyone has to eat. Currently we live and travel in an RV and when we find ourselves in an ethnic settled area I love checking out their grocery stores! It’s a wonderful way to find and learn about produce.

  • Marcia at Organising Queen

    I love grocery stores. I especially love the different types/ flavours of the same things you normally get at “home”. Like in Dublin, I ate rhubarb-flavoured yoghurt for the first and only time. I adore shopping for toiletries and stationery too.

    Not quite grocery stores, but in South Africa at McDonalds, we only have apple pies. When I was in Thailand and Malaysia, they have banana and pineapple pies – YUM!.

    In Australia, everything has beetroot on it (burgers, pizza, etc.) – things we defintely don’t put on our burgers and pizza in South Africa.

  • MEW

    Yes! One of the first things I do in a foreign country is go to the grocery store! I lived Norway for seven years and I never tired of going grocery shopping. I even love going to Latin, Asian, and other specialty markets here in the US, when I feel like discovering something new and different. I love just looking at how items are packaged.

  • Brigitte

    I like to go to the local Roman Catholic parish, not necessarily a tourist spot. When I attend mass there I feel connected to everyone, in spite of the language difference. Because the liturgy is the same everywhere I still “get it”, but the slight cultural differences are interesting. A little similar to the grocery store experience, perhaps?

  • Stacey Dale

    We love to visit grocery stores and we also seek out pet stores. Particularly in the US as the animals they sell are so different to what we have in Australia. We also went to an amazing outdoor/adverture store in Las Vegas. It was huge and had giant fishtanks and waterfalls inside and you buy all your guns (something we are not able to buy in Oz) and camo gear for hunting and push bikes and fishing gear, just the most amazing selection. We always hire a car and get out in to the suburbs of wherever we are visiting. It’s the best way to see how it really is.

  • Visiting the grocery store is literally one of the first things I do when I’m abroad, it’s always one of the best things I do, too.

  • michaelmelcher

    Gretchen, whenever I go overseas, I ALWAYS visit a grocery store and I ALWAYS take public transportation. Both are enchanting!

  • Andrea

    I love visiting grocery stores as well. And I always buy an interesting and unique flavored bag of potato chips to try.

  • emilydavenport

    I enjoy visiting libraries, breweries, thrift stores, and antique stores. Those are always a great insight into the local history and products that make an area unique. Anything you can’t buy online is a plus.

  • Kelly

    This is a great way not to feel like a tourist. I also recommend hardware stores and art supply stores–you will often find novel items that make much more memorable (because they are utilitarian) souvenirs of a trip than something you buy in a museum shop.

    • Kim

      Totally agree about hardware shops. I always travel with electrical insulation tape as it does for so many things: sticky tape, binding tape, waterproofing, even as a bandage. And I’ve found so many different types. Recently in a French shop I found cloth type, waterproof insulation tape. Wow, bought two.

  • OceanPark2

    I’m a fan of grocery store visiting as well. I so clearly remember the big containers of mole sauce base in the market we went to in Cancun on our honeymoon, or the fantastic little flans in the yogurt case in Spain.

    If there is time, another thing I love to do in other countries is go to the movies! Even if you don’t understand a word that’s being said, you see a relaxed and fun side of the local people and get a window into their popular culture. The concession stands are always fascinating too (just to bring it back to food).

  • Laura

    I had a whirlwind, 24 hour trip to Amsterdam last year and my fondest memory of the trip was visiting the supermarket, determined to find some Dutch toothpaste to bring back home with me. I mean, the Anne Frank house, the rijksmuseum, and the Van Gogh museum were magical in their own way, but the quest for Dutch toothpaste was definitely a highlight. I actually just finished off that tube yesterday!

  • Louise

    I absolutely love, love, love going to the supermarket in other countries. So much so that I’ve been blogging about it for some time.

    http://astrongbeliefinwicker.blogspot.com.au/search/label/Popping%20down%20to%20the%20shops

    You see everyday, simple things that amaze you, and it gives a great insight into a different culture, a different way of life. You can start to imagine how it might be to live there.