It is still winter. It is still too cold for the duck and my liking. It is the perfect time to write more about the one outside activity the duck and I enjoy all year round. The last time we dedicated a blog post to our adventures in grocery shopping, the duck and I were living in Tokyo. We had set off on our first grocery trip full of hopes and aspirations. We returned with a bag filled with confusion, sensory overload, and a little bit of food. Don’t get me wrong, we loved going grocery shopping in Tokyo. It felt like an adventure until our last days in this exciting city (the sunglasses and imaginary leather jackets we were going to use as our regular grocery shopping outfit once we’d figured out every aspect of it never left our wardrobe). Now we live in Berlin, which, surprisingly, is not at all like Tokyo. When it comes to grocery shopping here, I’m much more optimistic. Now that the duck and I have been educated about the burning ambition of the common pantry moth, not much could stop us on our quest to grocery shopping mastery.
Just look at the duck’s exploits! Those who have read about our grocery shopping adventures in Japan might already suspect how much we love buying our food in German supermarkets and grocery stores (and sometimes even drugstores). Gosh, we love grocery shopping so much that we could probably write a post about it every week for a year and never run out of topics. This is why the duck and I decided to limit ourselves to writing a comparison (in many, many words) between our experiences grocery shopping in Tokyo and in Berlin:
Yet again the duck and I are going on a spree: S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G!
Since moving to Berlin, the duck and I haven’t really changed our tastes in food. Well, I’m a bit afraid we might have become even pickier than we were back in Tokyo. Fortunately, this isn’t much of a problem here because:
- We actually know what this is. And we don’t like it. Next! In Japan, the duck and I did not know much about seasonal produce, and we were too afraid to buy any food we did not know how to prepare beforehand. We’re still not too sure about what is seasonal in Germany most of the time. But checking the price tags throughout the year is a good indicator of what probably is in season right now. You would think that now that we actually know what most of them taste like and can be used for, we’re buying all the fruit and vegetables. We’re not. We’ve become lazier, I’m afraid. So, despite the bigger variety of produce to choose from, we mostly buy the same things over and over and eat them raw if they are edible like that. Still, simply knowing that we could choose if we wanted to is nice. While in Japan, we sometimes returned from a grocery shopping trip with lots of mental notes on recipes to research. Now, we tend to come back with the ingredients for our three staple recipes that we make about 70% of the time. We still don’t mind eating the same stuff repeatedly.
- What IS this? A 500g bucket of cherry tomatoes for €2? Yes, please! (at the moment €1≈¥121≈$1.08≈£0.84) When the duck and I went grocery shopping in Japan, we often resorted to taking pictures of all the fruit we could not (or did not want to) afford. We still do that. However, there is one minor difference: We actually can afford to buy most fruit with a good cheapo conscience. €2 for a bucket of cherry tomatoes is an okay deal in Germany (€1.50 is what we are looking for). I don’t remember exactly how much cherry tomatoes were in Japan. I do remember, though, that when I felt generous and bought a small box I would space them out over three meals, à 2-4 tomatoes each, so I could savor them for longer. This also seems to be the number of little tomatoes an average Japanese person tends to add to their bentō. Now we know why. These days, the duck I are going by the (adult) handful. In addition to bananas, which are relatively cheap in Berlin and Tokyo, we do thoroughly enjoy adding other fruit to our morning oatmeal (rolled oats are a beautiful €0.5 per 500g, compared to the ¥350 per 300g for our breakfast staple in Tokyo before we found our alternative oatmeal sources). Sometimes we wonder how we could be satisfied with having a third of a banana, or, on a good day, half a kiwi, in our meticulously measured-out morning oats (they had to last a while). These days when the duck and I add just two varieties of fruit and flaxseed and walnut to our oatmeal, it tastes a bit bland. Berlin has spoiled us (I’m talking a kiwi on sale for about €0.2 instead of ¥80, 1kg of apples for €1.20 instead of one apple for ¥160, not to mention a box with 25 bags of store-brand peppermint tea for €0.6 instead of ¥200 for ten bags, … Admittedly those are prices for sometimes not-so-pretty non-organic foods in German grocery stores. But most pricey foods in Japan weren’t organic, either).
- What is this made of? Let’s read the multi-language ingredient list sans phone. And then we’ll remember what’s in it for the rest of the year. It is much easier to find food for us now. Not only are the ingredient lists much easier to decipher than the ones in Japanese. But Germany has also gotten much better at labeling food in the past few years (it was about time after the UK was labeling food as, for example, vegetarian waaaay back). There also seem to be quite a few more special diet foods in German grocery stores than in Japanese ones. It’s funny, actually, how the duck and I can’t really tolerate soy milk in large quantities (thank you, phenomenal pollen allergies, for this beautiful cross-sensitivity). Yet this was the only “milk” we bought in Tokyo (and even bravely tried several different flavors of) because regular grocery stores usually only carried one type of plant-based milk: soy. In Berlin, however, there are loads of plant milk varieties to choose from – many at pretty affordable prices – so that we now have an absolute favorite that we can drink as much of as we want: the store-brand oat milk from Kaufland (for less than €1). Kaufland oat milk is so popular that, at least at our local branch, there is a whole shelf with only that! I wanted to take a photo of those shelves full of oat milk, but unfortunately, they were almost out when the duck and I went earlier this week. Well, here is one with some of the other plant milk varieties they carry (and, if you look very closely, you can see a lonely box of oat milk in the bottom left corner). Unfortunately, this has become the only milk alternative (this one brand) we wholly enjoy. For now, that works for us. I guess we can never move again.
All in all, the duck and I still enjoy grocery shopping a lot. However, it is a tiny bit less of an adventure than it was in Japan, where we never knew what we would find, but most likely, there would be a sweet seasonal or local snack somewhere (we so miss them!). Here we have more of a routine because we pretty much know what we want to get, what it’ll taste like, and what we will prepare with it. Whenever we go to an Asian grocery store in Berlin, we get sentimental when we see the huge soy sauce bottles we know our current shared fridge situation doesn’t allow us to buy (I guess we also miss our private fridge next to our desk in Tokyo). The packaging of most foods isn’t as cute here as it is in Japan (though it also isn’t as excessive: individually wrapped cookies are great for taking along and portion control but considering that many countries currently try to cut back on plastic bags and packaging, this just seems a bit unnecessary), the sounds at the grocery store seem less cheerful in Berlin than in Tokyo… I guess overall, grocery stores seem a bit blander here. But at least our wallet is pretty happy, not only because oatmeal is much cheaper but also because it’s easier for us to look up what’s on sale beforehand. We did do some planned bargain hunting in Japan (meaning: checking out the offers on the websites of the grocery stores we’d go to the next day), but after moving to Berlin, this has somewhat escalated. Each Sunday, the duck and I visit the website of each of the six local grocery stores, check what they will have on sale, and then write a detailed shopping list for the week. In fact, that’s what we’re going to go back to now.