All Lost in the Cusco Supermarket

There are plenty of local abarrotes (corner grocery shops) near us, but just like the ubiquitous 7-11 convenience stores back home in the United States, the selection is poor and the prices are relatively high. For bulk shopping we head to a supermercado, just as we would back home. Since there are no supermercados near our San Blas apartment, we shop at the Mega on Plaza Tupac Amaru. This location works for us because can walk over while our kids are at their nightly swim practice at the Piscina Municipal.

There’s a large open-air market near our apartment, where we normally buy our fruits and vegetables, but we have yet to purchase any meat there. While the meat monger seems to do a brisk business, there is something about seeing meat lying on a concrete counter while flies hop all over it that makes us cringe. As such, we buy our beef and chicken from the meat counter at the supermercado, where they even have packaged, boneless chicken breasts. Even though I have no idea where they’ve been previously, I am somehow comforted by seeing chicken breasts that have been wrapped in cellophane. It’s either because of the perceived cleanliness or perhaps it is because I know I can quickly grab a package instead of waiting for a woman behind the counter to help me. The women behind the counter seem pretty disinterested and it is sometimes hard to get their attention.

The delicatessen counter, however, is a different story. It is hard to walk by without one of the women touting their bacon, offering a sample of ham or suggesting a local cheese. It makes me wonder if they are on commission. Despite their hard sell, I tend to avoid the deli counter as most of the meat has a curious orange color and I’ve yet to find a cheese I like. We do like the packaged salami and Serrano ham for sandwiches. Beyond these two items, some of our standbys are the fresh-squeezed orange juice, ciabatta bread rolls and the kid’s favorite -- Piqueo Snax -- a spicy mixture of snack foods. In general, the selection of fruits, vegetables and grains is excellent and – this being Peru – I always have a choice of at least 10 types of potatoes.

I sometimes run into trouble with the ladies that weigh the produce. For example, when I buy the bulk peeled garlic, it is usually for a dish I plan to cook, so I’ll only bag 5-6 peeled clove pieces. When I put the bag on the scale, the ladies shake their head and tell me I need to buy more. The first time I was sent back twice until I had the requisite number. When I asked the lady what I should do with all the extra garlic, she just shrugged. I got my revenge a few weeks ago when purchasing cilantro. The cilantro bin was just about empty but I was able to find a small handful, which was exactly how much I needed. I brought it to the scale and the lady shook her head and said I needed more. When I told her that there was no more she marched over to the herb section and searched it thoroughly while I tried to suppress a grin.

The store is a smaller than we are used to. The aisles are very narrow so I find it easier to park my cart in the back of the store and go back and forth for what I need. There’s also a shortage of shopping carts; weekday evenings my cart is often snatched away just as I pull the last item out to place it on the checkout counter. Once the checkout clerk has rung me up, I find that the bill usually comes pretty close to 100 soles ($33 USD), probably because that’s the amount of food that will fit into 4 bags, the maximum that I can carry back to the swimming pool.

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