Milk…I stood in the supermarket aisle staring desperately at the milk, hoping it would make some sense to me and I would somehow know which bottle to pick up and put into my trolley. Inside the bottle was the same product as one I’d buy just about anywhere in the world, but the packaging was different, and in this case, the colour of the bottle tops was different. And so, until I finally got round to comparing the fat content in the different bottles with the fat content of milk sold in the UK, I did what I usually ended up doing, and picked up the dark blue topped ‘standard’ milk. Milk, for me, epitomises the experience of visiting the supermarket as someone living in a new place. The product is the same but the packaging is different and the supermarket layout is different, and so what should be a five minute visit to the shop for milk and bread becomes a game of hunt the product, or at least something that fills a similar enough function to suffice until I figure it out. The new country’s way of doing things isn’t wrong – it is just different.
In the case of milk, it wasn’t just a matter of the bottle tops being different to the UK, it was also a case of the descriptions being different – no standard blue top = whole milk, green top = semi skimmed, and any other colours and varieties have too little fat and taste to be worth paying for. The colours seemed reasonably standardised here but it took a little while to differentiate between standard, slim, trim, extra slim and lite milk. If you’re visiting or moving to New Zealand from the UK, here is my handy guide:
Dark blue = standard = UK blue top/whole milk
Light blue = slim and sometimes (I think) trim = UK green top/semi-skimmed
Green = extra slim and possibly lite = UK red top/skimmed (I think!)
Other colours = too confusing for me so I’m going to stick to blue in one shade or another as they seem to cover all our needs.
Even once I’d figured out the milk, there was that elusive bread aisle to find – it took about three visits to one particular supermarket before I found their bread section, despite the prominent ‘bakery’ section near the front (bakery sections seem to sell cakes and specialty breads but are not positioned anywhere near the section with simple loaves for sandwiches and toast). Apparently Kiwis just don’t eat as much bread as people do in the UK, and, as a result, the starch-sources that we’re eating are much more varied than they were before, and possibly more interesting (although my young children, I find cheese makes most things palatable so the interest is really only for those in our household who want a non-cheese based diet). In contrast to the relative dearth of bread, however, New Zealand supermarkets seem to have considerable shelf space devoted to just about every free-from diet, so if you’re gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free or anything else-free and need at least three different varieties of quinoa for dinner tonight, this is definitely the place for you! Unless, of course, you’re from the UK and are aiming for a diet free from foreign food, in which case pretty much all the UK section can offer you is mushy peas, Irn Bru, and, if you’re having a really good day, Yorkshire Tea at a price that doesn’t make you feel like you’re drinking liquid gold (I’ve not had a day that good so far!). Despite those gripes, I do really like the international food sections of many supermarkets, and have particularly enjoyed being re-acquainted with childhood food from the South African section, which offers products such as Moirs Instant Pudding, Ouma Rusks and Pecks Anchovette Fish Paste. Just a word of warning, regardless of the diet you’re following – keep an extra close eye on the price by weight (for example, the price per 100 grams) rather than the package price – it is often cheaper by weight to buy smaller packets of goods than larger packets.
Once you’ve figured out what to put in your trolley, it is time to head to the check out. Which leads nicely on to my experience of standing in line at the supermarket checkout, staring absent-mindedly at the shopping on the belt in front of mine, when I suddenly realised that what I was looking at was two eyes…dead eyes…in a pig’s head…which was wrapped in standard supermarket packaging for meat…in what I thought was a normal supermarket. I had only just become used to seeing chicken ‘nibbles’ and cow hearts and quietly admiring Kiwi use of nearly the whole animal but this took it to a whole new level. I’ve not bought a pig head to try for myself but I have googled what to do with one, with the serious intent of perhaps trying one some day in the future (though sadly, I’ve not seen pig heads for sale there again).
If a supermarket isn’t your thing, you may wish to try some of New Zealand’s many smaller independent food shops. It has been great to see an abundance of small fruit and veg shops and butcheries. I’ve not yet worked out if the butcheries are better than supermarkets in terms of price and quality but the fruit and veg shops are definitely worth patronising. Learning to shop and eat in New Zealand has been a true experience in becoming seasonally aware and I think my meals are becoming more creative as I tackle the challenge of buying the fruit and veg currently in season and then coming up with something tasty for us to eat rather than creating a meal plan and knowing everything I could possibly want will be available. We’ve eaten a lot of pumpkin and cabbage lately but not many tomatoes! Recently I wanted mushrooms for a dish I’d planned to cook but couldn’t find them in either the fresh or frozen aisle so had to come up with something else – this process on repeat over the weeks is excellent for my culinary creativity!
Food prices in New Zealand are higher than in the UK but they are also sustainable prices for a sustainable industry – something I need to get better at reminding myself when I inwardly wince at the total cost of a supermarket visit. Being in New Zealand, although only for a short time so far, has really made me appreciate the huge variety of products, particularly food products, to which I had access at reasonably affordable prices in the UK. But it has also made me start to think about the processes that enable that to happen and made me appreciate the opportunity to experience a different approach, with the bonus of food that is probably more fresh and frequently more tasty!
What’s your experience of shopping in a new country? Or if you’ve moved to New Zealand, what would you add to the above? I’d love to hear from you!