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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Living in Dushanbe: Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping is a universal constant.  Everyone in the world has to eat and everyone in the world has to either be the one who gets the food or has food gotten for them by somebody.  In our family, I'm the actual food-getter (Brandon pays for the food, but I actually go out and get the stuff) and so much of my life revolves around food, either getting it, making it, or cleaning it up.  That's a main part of my job, part of the agreement that Brandon and I have that lets me stay home and take a nap every day.

Whenever I think about living somewhere, I first think of the weather and then I think of what food I can get there.  Food is a main tool for my job and so it's a big consideration.  Sub-Saharan Africa may have mangoes, but they're not much of a dairy culture, which is a bit of a problem.  

I knew that Dushanbe wouldn't exactly be a foodie paradise - my favorite quote from the welcome info was "although product varieties are less abundant  than in more developed countries, one begins to appreciate how uncomplicated life becomes when there are fewer shopping decisions to make"- so I shopped accordingly for my consumables shipment and steeled myself for canned vegetables until summer.

My sponsor took me shopping when we arrived and showed me the several stores most people used.  I was a little surprised with what actually could be gotten - tomatoes are apparently a world staple in pretty much any large city - and unsurprised with what couldn't be found - nope, still no peanut butter.  The stores here aren't too different in variety than the stores in Baku, but I'm generally not an exotic-items shopper.  I have whole cookbooks worth of recipes that can't be cooked while I live overseas.  I've got a rotation of twenty or thirty recipes that have ingredients I know I can get or I know to pack in my consumables.  Any new recipe I come across is first evaluated for the availability of ingredients.

In Baku, one could get exotic ingredients if one wanted to go all over the city looking for them and then pay out the nose for jars of American pasta sauce.  I was never that person, so now that those stores aimed at rich foreigners don't exist I really don't miss them.  It's good to be a cook from scratch cook when you live in a land of basic ingredients.  It's pretty amazing the variety of meals you can make that contain carrots, onions, potatoes and cabbage.  

The grocery store here do have very limited produce section (although surprisingly large quantities of ginger can be bought) but it's much cheaper and fresher(ish) at the local bazaar so I have my housekeeper shop for me each week at the bazaar.  She also brings eggs and bread.  There is fresh milk available at the stores here, but I have a milk lady bring fresh milk twice a week, from which I make a variety of milk products (yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, cream, sometimes butter).  

This means that I only have to go to the grocery store about once a month, or whenever our butter supply runs low.  Brandon takes the car to work, so it's good that I don't have to shop very often, because when I keep the car it costs taxi fare for him to get to work.  And I'm happy to shop infrequently enough that I forget when it was I last went to the store.

One day I'll be back in the land of twenty varieties of peanut butter and fifty varieties of cheese and I'm not sure if I'll know what to do with myself after having spent decades cooking the same thirty recipes.  I hardly ever even make grocery lists any more because I get the same twelve things - snacks, butter, chicken, pasta, chocolate, juice, occasional condiments, spices, cheese, flour, dried fruit, and nuts - whenever I go to the grocery store.  At first I fought against constantly cooking the same thing - even if nobody else gets bored I do - but recently I've given up caring so much.  Cooking is a job and everyone gets fed even if I'm not excited about what I'm cooking.

I'm looking forward to summer when produce becomes fresh, abundant, and delicious.  The payoff for living through the darkness and unending diet of root vegetables is strawberries, apricots, cherries, peaches, raspberries, blackberries, nectarines, pears, apples, tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, squash, and cucumbers that were on the plant twenty-four hours before they're in your stomach or on top of your pancakes.  And on those days, you can take your twenty varieties of peanut butter and fifty of cheese.  I'll have cherries in everything instead.

1 comment:

Camille Dockery said...

I am jealous of the prospect of those berries!!