Sunday, February 10, 2013

Shopping for Poo

Grocery shopping, at times, has taken over my trip. At the beginning of the new year I spent 10 days in Bangkok doing an assortment of things: medical work, teeth cleaning, health classes, detox, etc. A woman I met at the detox center recommended a book on Thai cooking when it became apparent that I was not going to be able to fit the Thai cooking class into my already packed schedule. My quest for this famous book called “Cooking with Poo” led me to every bookstore between the Siam and Thong Lo BTS stations. This seemed a considerable distance to walk. There are loads of bookstores in the Siam area where I began the journey so I figured it would not be difficult to find this popular book. 

When people call things popular, there’s a reason. Bookstores were completely sold out. I asked the cashier to check the stock at other stores in the area at every bookstore. When we found the book nearby, I would rush (well, I guess walking doesn’t count as rushing) to the next store only to find that they were not actually in stock. Either someone had bought it in the 30 minutes it took me to find the next store or, the computer was just flat out wrong about what was in stock. Finally finding the book after a three hour journey, I sat down at my favorite street stall with a mango smoothie and wrote a list of the ingredients I would need to complete the recipes that I wanted to try back in Kyiv. 

I then went to my first Thai grocery store. It was delightful to walk down the aisles and see all the products with seaweed, the different kinds of snacks, dried fruits, vegetables and fresh fruits. They also had Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian and Western selections. How amazing to be able to find everything! Back in the day when I lived in Hefei, Anhui Province, China, I rejoiced when I Carrefour came to the area and I could buy cheese. Before that, in Yongchuan, I would travel 45 minutes from my university by bus to the city to buy 3 year old tomato paste which I used to make Ketchup. The only westernish food I could find, I believe I was also the only one of a handful of Westerners in the city to actually buy it. I realized this after I noticed that the stock only decreased in size after I came and bought some. These experiences led me to really appreciate a well-stocked supermarket like the ones in Bangkok.   

My shopping took 4 days for two reasons. One, I could only carry so much at one time and many of the items I bought were bottles of different oils that were heavy. Two, I could not identify all of the items. While I could have 3 suitcases at 70 pound each on my flights from Bangkok to Kyiv, I did not want to have three suitcases full of things that I bought by mistake. Some of the ingredients like the soft beans or certain spices I had to Google. I do not read or speak Thai and needed to see what the outside of the can might look like so that I could get the right thing. Not having a smart phone or iPad I drew pictures of the labels that then drew laughter when I showed it to people in the stores. Having perfected the art of using crazy drawings and hand gestures, I followed the sound of their laughter to the product I was looking for. Over 4 days and 3 supermarkets I had the ingredients I needed to make the recipes. I confess I bought an extra suitcase on my last day to take it all home.