Russia, January 31, 1999
Where the best (and cheapest) produce in Russia is for saleThere are three types of places to buy food and such in Russia, "Western" stores, Russian stores, and open air markets. The cost drops significantly as you move away from the white tile floors and polite staff of the Western stores, but the selection increases dramatically. For the last month, during the cash crunch that followed my departure from the Peace Corps, and subsequent wait for my first paycheck, I lived off my credit card, shopping only at the Western stores that accepted Visa. Now that I have roubles, I am back in the mix with the rest of this city, shopping at the Russian stores and in the markets.
Guess what this is!
The Western stores work just like any random 7-11 in the States, just three times (3x) as expensive, so I'll give you a Russian store description, and then we will move into the market scene.
To find a Russian store, just look for the door under a white sign smashed between two Coke or Pepsi signs. I think the entire city is under their influence! When you walk in a strange view will confront you. All the items are behind counters. See, they skip all those cameras, security stickers, and shoplifting losses by making you buy the goods before you can touch them. Good idea, but the listless/asleep/downright rude sales staff usually distorts the application. Once you spy something you want, you can ask the sales staff to let you view it closer. If they are alive and happen to respond, you can try to read the label as they quickly pass it in front of you. Now lets say you want to buy the item, you cannot just pay her and leave, that would be too easy. You first have to figure out the price, find the cashier who sits in a cage at the other end of the store, and then pay her and tell her what section you are buying stuff in. Only one section per payment please! She will give you a receipt, which you give to the sales staff, who then gives you the product. This is the cursed "three line" system of shopping. Slow, inefficient, and everywhere.
Now if you want a real shopping experience, nutting beats a good "rinok" or market. Reminding me of all the best markets in South America, Russian markets are a mix of foods, smells, sights, and peoples. Today I went to one of the better food markets here in Moscow. It, like almost all food markets, is in a converted circus dome. Inside there are rows of the freshest fruits, vegetables, spices, pickled products, whole pigs and chickens, and dairy products. I was in awe of the variety and freshness of the foods. From the average Russian diet, you would never know they had mangos, avocados, or lettuce in this country. Today I saw all three, buying an avocado to make guacamole from.
Look at all those eggplants & peppers! Tasty!
I was there with Zhenya, my landlady, who proceeded to buy what she wanted in a quick and efficient manner. First she bargained with all the sellers, finding the best price for the freshest foods she wanted, then bargained them a bit more. After years of experience, she was amazing, and I was in awe. Once she was done, I tried my hand, and paid way too much (by her standards) for the worst foods (by her standards again), but I was happy. I found almost everything I wanted, except for black beans and couscous. Neither I have ever seen here, but I wouldn't mind getting in a care package (hint).
Some of the foods here are quite interesting. They have all types of pickled foods, including apples and pickled garlic, the latter of which I bought to try out. Also on display were whole pigs, gutted and cleaned, and sides of meat a butcher would cut for you as you waited. There was some sort of large melon I had never seen before and a strange red fruit filed with seeds. All the staples were extremely cheap, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage being close to free.
What the hell is that in my bag!?
Overall I love going to the market the most, to see the people as much as the foods. Zhenya put on a great show bargaining, and the Muslim spice man had a wild flourish to his salesmanship. I, being the foolish American, just tried to keep my mouth and wallet shut as much as possible, quite a feat for me!