Tag Archives: grocery shopping

Free soap samples and my first visit to Asda in Sketchyville, UK

4 Aug

There’s this store on New Bond St that gives out little samples of bar soap when you walk by. Except they don’t tell you it’s soap when they hand it to you, they simply say, “Don’t eat it!” It’s obvious many people have tried to eat it — it looks exactly like Turkish delight or a Jolly Rancher, and when people hand out samples on the street, typically they’re edible. But it seems like the whole misunderstanding could be avoided if they just said, “Would you like to try a sample of our soap?” instead of “Try this, don’t eat it!” I don’t get it.

asda old kent road london

I went to Asda for the first time today. Asda is owned by Walmart, and as it turns out, it’s exactly like an American Walmart, sketchy people and all. I was only 3 miles from central London, but it felt like I was in a different world. There was even a drive-thru McDonald’s next door! I was completely overwhelmed and amazed by the selection — there wasn’t just one variety, scent and flavor of everything like at my usual Tesco Metro. I am always lamenting about how there aren’t enough cheap grocery stores in central London and I can’t always find everything I need at Tesco, yet here I was, surrounded by every food (or household) item I could ever want, and I had no idea what to buy. I also knew everything I got I’d have to schlep home on the bus in my giant DSW tote (the best free bag ever).

So naturally I went for tea. I had to try the new Tetley’s Indulgence line — Cookies and Cream and Gingerbread teas? Yes, please! (Even though my tea cupboard is overflowing and I promised myself I would not buy any more tea until my collection fit in one cupboard. But pretty soon we’ll be remodeling the kitchen and getting bigger cupboards, so perhaps that won’t be a problem anymore :-P) I also bought stevia tablets to go with the tea, and Japanese BBQ sauce because it was on clearance. And instant protein porridge packs to take on our upcoming holiday, even though they probably sell instant oatmeal in Italy. I had planned to walk the whole way home, but I was getting sketchy vibes from the neighborhood and didn’t want to risk my phone (or new legendary Pokemon!) to some moped thief, so I hopped back on the bus, only to get off when I spotted a Lidl. Lidl and Aldi are always located in Dodgy McDodgyville, but the bargains are too good to pass up. They had giant cherries less than half the price of Tesco. And Belgian chocolate! And skyr! And sesame oil, coconut oil spray, corn, nuts… Needless to say, my shoulder is killing me. And I wasn’t even done! I had one more stop on my discount shop bus journey — Iceland. Where, of course, today’s special was cherries — 400g for 50p! That’s practically free. (The normal price is 400g for £3. Tesco sells 200g for £2.) People were going nuts adding them to their baskets. I only bought one pack since I already bought cherries at Lidl, but looking back on it I probably should have bought more and froze them for smoothies. Then again adding just 400g more to my tote bag may have caused my shoulder (or the bag itself) to give out.


A random post about nothing, grocery shopping and a cute panda video

2 Mar

Hello, friends, family and internet strangers (especially those of you who found me through my Priceline refund post, I’m so happy it’s been helping people!).

I feel like it’s been too long since I last posted, yet I don’t really have anything to post about. I’m not sure one can use the word “boring” about living in central London, but no matter where you live you tend to fall into a routine — work, run, somehow get caught up in the changing of the guard while trying to cut through Horseguards no matter what time it is, eat, more work. The usual.

Our new place is finally starting to feel like home, even though we still haven’t painted or made the cosmetic changes we’ve been talking about for months. (Finding a reputable, reasonably priced builder is surprisingly hard.) But I’ve gotten used to the location and know all the best shortcuts to get around the tourist-infested streets. I can’t seem to break my once a week grocery shopping habit though. At our old place we lived over a mile from all the best stores, so every Monday I would lug my little trolley to Aldi, Iceland, Sainsbury’s and sometimes other stores to stock up for the week. But now we live reasonably close to a Tesco so I could go every day if I wanted to. I don’t need to buy vegetables on Monday for Friday and worry if they’ll still be fresh. And yet I still find myself doing a big shop on Monday, just because Monday has been grocery shopping day for so long. I can’t even wean myself off my Aldi habit. Not only are their prices so much better than Tesco, they sell things Tesco doesn’t have, like frozen cherries and blueberries. So now about once a month my trolley and I take the Tube up to Aldi and I wipe out their supply of thousand island salad dressing, frozen fruit, and dark chocolate (at least that’s what I go in intending to buy — I always leave with a trolley so full I have to bring my giant tote bag for overflow). It’s such a hassle and I keep telling myself I should stop — I can deal with the subpar, more expensive dressing at Tesco and can use other fruits in my smoothies, but the Aldi lure is just too strong. I’m looking forward to checking out Aldi in the U.S. on my upcoming visit, they just built a nice new one by my parents’ house.

Hey, I just made a post about grocery shopping, just like in the good old days of the blog!

I’ll end with this amazing baby panda video. I know they say when you work with pandas you mostly just clean up poo and prepare bamboo, but I totally wouldn’t mind doing that with this little guy in tow!

(Though I really want to tell iPanda it should be “Nanny, you can’t resist my cuteness!” Do you think they’ll accept my editing services in exchange for baby panda playtime?)

That’s why mums (and Renee) go to Iceland!*

9 Jul

Right before I left for the US in April Stephen bought a car. Having a car in London is still a new experience for me. For example, this conversation happened on Saturday:

Stephen: Do you want to stop at Sainsbury’s?
Me: Why? For what?
Stephen: Um, food?
Me: But I go to Sainsbury’s on Monday.
Stephen: We have a car now, you don’t have to walk to Sainsbury’s anymore.

Suddenly I had visions of myself rocking back and forth Rain Man-style on the floor of Harrod’s (because that place brings out the worst in me), muttering, “But it’s Monday, I go to Sainsbury’s on Monday.” I didn’t realize how dependent I was on my grocery shopping routine until it was almost taken away from me. So we drove to Sainsbury’s on Saturday — which is much more crowded than on a Monday — but I still insisted on going again today because I finally decided on what meals to make this week, and because today is Monday, and on Monday I go to Sainsbury’s.

I also went because — get this — there is a new grocery store in town. I go away for two months and an Iceland pops up in my neighborhood. I had to check it out. Turns out they don’t carry the cuisine of Reykjavik (whatever that may be), but they specialize in frozen foods (get it? Ice land). That’s right, friends, an entire grocery store that just sells frozen stuff. And you thought Americans were lazy!

When we first moved to London we went through a frozen/microwave meal phase, because we didn’t have any pots and pans for what seemed like months as we waited for our ocean freight to arrive. I used to see adverts for Iceland back then and thought, “Wow, look at all the ready-meal choices! I want to go to there! Why isn’t there an Iceland near me?” And now there is! So I stopped in on my way to Sainsbury’s.

It was incredibly new-looking — bright lights, stark white walls. And aisle upon aisle of frozen stuff. Their website totes the amazingness of frozen food (“Freezing is a natural process and does not usually require the use of any preservatives”). While I’ve been trying to cook more, relying on fresh ingredients, sometimes I’m lazy — and freezing is natural! (Ha ha). I wandered around and picked up a few items to test them out. I was surprised to find the one frozen food item I eat every day — frozen fruit for my smoothie — they had a limited selection of. They did have better prices on spinach and cherries, both of which weren’t frozen (they have a tiny non-frozen section). I guess my life isn’t very exciting lately when a new grocery store is the highlight of my week. I’ll have to test everything I bought to decide whether Monday will be deemed Sainsbury’s AND Iceland day.

*”That’s why mums go to Iceland” is Iceland’s slogan and apparently a favourite to parody in the UK.

Melon love and Scooter McGee

15 Nov

Yesterday I walked to Sainsbury’s for the last time in 2011. As I was halfway there I realized something — I didn’t really need to buy anything. I was just going out of habit. I could have turned around, but I pressed onward in the misty air in the pursuit of melon. Because lately, I’ve been obsessed with melon. In the US, or at least at regular non-overpriced grocery stores (I’m looking at you, Whole Foods), it seems you can only get three types of melon — watermelon, cantelope and honeydew. A few weeks ago I discovered galia melon, which Wikipedia tells me is a hybrid of cantelope and honeydew. It looks like a cantelope on the outside, is green like honeydew on the inside, but tastes like heaven — in other words, nothing like honeydew, which tastes like the rind of a cantelope. This melon is so good it was worth the long walk and potential encounter with Crabby McScooter’s handler.

Yes, apparently I’m not the only one who makes a habit of shopping every Monday morning. For the past few weeks I’ve encountered this old woman in a motorized scooter. She’s incredibly bossy, but I wouldn’t have noticed her too much if it weren’t for the man with her. Since she’s in a scooter and can’t reach much, he helps her do her shopping. And he talks. A lot. I encountered him for the first time in the frozen meat aisle a few weeks ago. We were both looking at chicken and the old lady was crabbing about something. “Can you believe this?” he joked. “I don’t even get paid for this!” I smiled and laughed and pushed my cart away. Then I saw him again the next week in the vegetable aisle. I assumed he was the lady’s husband, but I heard him refer to her as Mrs., like he was some type of employee of hers who apparently doesn’t get paid. The lady was once again complaining and he looked at me and said, “And I’m not even getting paid!” Once again I smiled and laughed and went onward. A few minutes later I overheard him in the butter aisle giving the same “I’m not getting paid” spiel to another shopper. I started wondering if he was somehow being paid by someone to say that he’s not getting paid, because he surely said it every chance he got. I ran into him again by the milk and he just kept talking. I don’t think he had an exact recipient of his words in mind, he just liked to hear himself speak. Last week I heard the crabby scooter lady’s voice an aisle over and decided I’d rather make a detour than have to smile and laugh to “I’m not getting paid,” once again. I thought for certain I was on the opposite side of the store, but I turned down the cereal aisle and there he was. “Can you believe this?” he said. “No,” I wanted to say. “I am trying to avoid you and you miraculously turned up on the other side of the store,” but instead I smiled and laughed. “The things I do,” he went on as Crabby McScooter rolled away. “I’m not even being paid!”

Once again Old Scooter McGee was at the store yesterday, and I waited for the familiar voice of her helper as I planned my escape route. But to my dismay, she was with a young woman, no more talkative gentleman friend.

I guess he got tired of not being paid.

The best deal in Britain

2 Oct

For some inexplicable reason, I was unusually worried about grocery shopping here. Not just that they wouldn’t have the food and brands I like, but that everything would be extraordinarily expensive. The way we stocked up on toiletries in our ocean freight you’d think we were moving somewhere without stores. But–surprise!–they do have stores here. We’ve been going to a Tesco Metro just down the street, which isn’t even a full-fledged supermarket. They seem to be geared towards people who live in the area and just need to pick up a few things, as there is no parking lot or shopping carts, only baskets. Everything is smaller too, like the laundry detergent bottle. That might be the store or just the UK in general–their paper towels are shorter than ours too. I was pleasantly surprised by how reasonably priced things were. We got a can of Pringles for 99 pence ($1.56), a six-pack of yogurt for 90 pence ($1.40) and a box of cookies for 44 pence (70 cents). But the best deal by far is the Tesco Meal Deal–you get a prepackaged sandwich, bag of chips–I mean crisps, and pop, water or juice for £2 ($3.16). You can’t beat that deal, even in the US! And the sandwiches aren’t bad either considered they are premade and packaged in a triangle box. So far I like the ham and cheese and chicken caesar. Some of them are a bit bizarre, like prawn and mayonnaise and chicken and bacon stuffing. While trying to find an image for this post, a Tesco lasagna sandwich kept coming up. I’d love to try that.

While you can get some American brands here (Heinz, Kellogg’s), there are some you can’t. I found the website of this store in St. John’s Wood that capitalizes on that fact and sells American products to rich American expats for ridiculous prices. A box of Kraft mac and cheese is £2 ($3.16), Oreos are £5 (close to $8) and–the kicker–Lucky Charms for £7 ($11). I love Lucky Charms, but not that much! Looks like I’ll be stocking up on them when I go back to the states for Christmas.