Saturday, June 4, 2011

Scenes from a Cambodian Supermarket

I have blogged before about the sheer joy I derive from walking up and down the aisles of supermarkets in foreign countries ( When I wrote that blog entry, I did not have any photographs to accompany my musings.

This time, I went to Phnom Penh's Lucky Supermarket armed and dangerous, camera in tow. Going to local supermarkets, even if they are Westernized, is a great way to get a feel for what kinds of produce, spices, and meats are central to a given culture. Maybe I should have gotten a doctorate in anthropology (with a focus on food) instead of political science. Whatever . . .

My tuk tuk driver (remember that they're motorcycle-drawn carriages that are Cambodia's taxis) deposited me in front of Lucky Supermarket after my last interview today. Yes, I did work on Saturday, but let's not discuss that.

Right in front of the supermarket were two women employees who offered samples of pate on baguette. I couldn't pass that up. The pate was not great, but hey, it was a free sample.

Upon entering the large store, I needed a strategy of attack. I wanted to be systematic, so an aisle-by-aisle approach seemed sensible. I wanted to explore items that were not readily available even in the pan Asian supermarkets where I shop.

So I started in the produce aisle, which shares space with meats. Lots of cool stuff to examine. I was taken with the wide variety of produce, especially fruits that I just don't see in the United States.

I found jackfruit, which is also popular in the Caribbean.

Dragon fruit looked quite dramatic. It made an appearance in the fruit salad I had for breakfast this morning. It's dark white/light grey, with black seeds. It's not super sweet, has a mild flavor and is refreshing.

And jujubes, which I have yet to taste.

The rambutan sort of reminds me of beets.

You know how it's possible to buy combinations of produce for stews and stocks? There's something similar here, except it includes meat for kou kou:

I walked over to the next aisle and noticed a selection of extracts. My cupboard has several varieties beyond the usual vanilla extract. When I was in Malaysia, I bought pandan extract since I despaired of being able to find pandan leaves in my local pan Asian supermarket. Chef Bosco Pereira actually did find frozen ones for me. It's still nice to have the extract.

At Lucky, my eye was caught by the brand name of the local extract, Best Odor! The labels are also more fun than the ones I'm accustomed to seeing on extract bottles in the United States.

Milk in plastic containers is imported from Australia and has a picture on it that made me think of the Midwest and a bygone era.

I love tea and am familiar with a number of brands. But I was not prepared for Gryphon Tea Company's Nymph of the Nile!

I suspect that the parents who are responsible for changing their children's diapers wouldn't think to call them Play Pants, but there you have it.

Globalization has done a reasonably good job of creating fairly standard offerings in local supermarkets across a range of countries. For someone like me who really likes to enter into a culture and try to understand it on its own terms, one of the ways to do that is to visit such supermarkets. Even if the products are not distinctly or uniquely Cambodian, they are different from what I find here in the United States. It may sound silly, but it's like being a kid in a candy shop. I want to touch, see, smell and taste, even if the only real difference is the packaging. How much better when the difference is in the food, too.

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