19 December, 2012

Grocery Shopping 101

So, I got several responses to my Facebook post, so here is Megan's Guide to Grocery Shopping in Hungary.

1. Try to avoid huge trips at all costs.

  • When you have no car and have to bring your own bags, you are limited by how many bags you have and how much you can carry. The wise nénis ("aunties") of the city have bags on wheels to carry their purchases and I am not ashamed to use one as well!

2. Carry your own bag on you at all times.

  • When you make frequent, small trips to the store, you never know when you will have to stop by to pick up a quick liter of milk. You don't want to have to buy a whole new bag just to carry home your milk and bread. Ben calls his a "Popple," because it folds up into a neat little bundle like the 90's toy.

This is an internet picture. Neither Ben nor I own a Popple. I think. Yet.
3. About that liter of milk.

  • It's in a cardboard box. For the more adventurous, you can get it in a plastic bag.

4. Common items are surprisingly different.

  • Eggs come by the 10s, not the 12s. 
  • Bread is fresh. Many times you bag it and slice it yourself. For those that might have OCD, don't think about where the bread has been or choose an already bagged bread loaf. Oh, and the sticker is not edible, but it does not peel off.
  • Shredded cheese? Nope, buy the whole thing and shred it yourself. Oh, and cheddar? Either ridiculously expensive or completely unavailable. You will learn to love trappista; a salty, mild white cheese.
5. When Hungarians like something, it comes in 500 different kinds.
  • There is an entire case in our grocery store devoted to túro. What is túro, you ask? Cottage cheese. But you can get it creamy, you can get it dry, you can get it flavored, you can get it bite-sized and covered in chocolate. Do I sound like Bubba from Forrest Gump yet?
  • Remember trappista? So. Many. Options. 
  • Chocolate? A whole aisle full
  • Wine? 3 aisles full
  • Paprika? psh, you have sweet paprika, spicy paprika, deli paprika, paprika spreads, and paprika flavored chips. The word "paprika" actually means "pepper" in Hungarian, so I think you can tell who made it popular!
6. Look up the Hungarian word before you go, but do not expect it to be called that.
  • Some of you may remember my cumin post. Yeah... nothing like accidentally buying a ton of caraway to teach you THIS lesson.
  • Paprika- vegetable pepper. Feketebors- black pepper
  • bor- wine, bors- pepper
7. Do not go shopping on a Saturday morning.
  • Just don't.
8. Do not expect anyone to be aware of their own locations or the location of their carts
  • Have enough self awareness for yourself and the rest of the people in the grocery store. If someone runs their cart into yours because they were not looking, they will give YOU a nasty look.
  • Ben and I have developed the "dive bomber & fighter plane" system, particularly if we have lost our minds enough to go on a Saturday morning. Ben moves slower in the large aisles and I dart in like a fighter plane and grab 2-3 items we need in the crowded, smaller aisles. I return to him to drop the parcels and receive my next mission. We have never lost a man in combat utilizing this method.
9. Malls are the best places to find large grocery stores
  • Every mall in the city has a large grocery store in the basement. The store at our mall is called InterSpar, but at other malls you can find Match, Tesco, and Auchan. 
  • There are little grocery stores all over the city, but if you want more selection and harder-to-find items, get thee to a mallery!
10. Throw out your idea of how a grocery store is organized in the States
  • There is nothing illogical about how sections are organized here, it's just not like it is in the States. Canned or jarred fruits and vegetables line the walls of the produce section. You will find your tomato sauce next to the corn. Pasta is over by the oil and flour and cereal is in the bakery.
11. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but choose something other than cereal.
  • You know that box of cereal you snagged for $2 last week with a coupon? It's $7 here and there are no large boxes.
  • Cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, bread, and deli meat are the most common ingredients in a Hungarian's breakfast. I wish I liked all those things, because eating all those raw veggies is a much healthier alternative to bacon and eggs or cereal!
12. How do we get out?!?! It's a trap!!!
  • Don't expect it to be too easy to leave the store without buying something. At the InterSpar at our mall, there is only 1 entrance and only 1 exit if you leave without buying something (customer service). They are at opposite ends of the store.
  • If you try and sneak out one of the check out lines, you will be firmly reprimanded and sent to customer service to exit there.
13. If you have ever been to an Aldi, you have a pretty good idea of the European model for grocery stores.
  • You need a coin to get a cart.
  • The checkers are all seated at the registers.
  • You bag your own groceries. Preferably, after the transaction is complete and in a different location.
  • You need to bring your own bags or purchase them at the store.
14. Above all, do NOT forget to weigh and sticker your fresh produce and make sure EVERYTHING has a tag or a barcode on it.
  • If you get to the checker and your produce does not have a sticker, you will not be getting that produce. The same goes for anything missing a tag. You REALLY do not want to see the nasty looks you will get from the checker and the people behind you in line, if you decide you still want whatever item you had. It's just not pretty and really not worth it. Last week, I did not get the kiwis I wanted because they did not have a tag on them.
15. Speaking of fresh produce...
  • Better than going to a grocery store, go to a covered market. Every district has one and you can get cheaper prices and fresher items. Not only that, you will find a larger variety and you can also get cuts of meat. The one catch is that you have to be confident enough in your Hungarian to get what you want!

In many ways I prefer the way groceries are done here. There is a lot more emphasis on fresh produce and not putting preservatives in foods. You will not find things canned here as often, but you will find things in glass jars. I prefer the glass jars to the more common plastic jars in the States. They are easier to recycle and if you save them and remove the labels, they make for great containers for Christmas gifts!

That's all for today! I don't know that any of you will ever need to go grocery shopping in Hungary, but if you do, you have some basics to start with!

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