Expat Shopping

Expat Shopping
I’ve been here long enough that day-to-day life feels pretty normal and I don’t notice most of the differences. Yet occasionally I’m reminded of my multi-culture lifestyle. Today was one of those days.

The weather was nice, after a day of rain yesterday, and I wanted to get out and enjoy it. We decided to head to the Vredenburg market to pick up ingredients for dinner tonight and stop off at a few other shops along the way. First up was Hema, which can be a bit like Target in that you go in for one thing and come out with a whole bag of other things. It didn’t help that they were having a “vrijmarkt” sale this weekend, with lots of items marked down. I went in for a T-shirt to wear on Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day) this week and came out with a new shower puff, a purple sweater, and the T-shirt (seen above with the crown print on it). I actually got out pretty light, all things considered!

After dodging the numerous people that hang out in one spot on Steenweg trying to get you to answer various surveys, we headed to the Centraal Toko, because that’s another shop I can’t resist going in when I’m there. It’s an Asian market with a nice selection of items that aren’t so easy to find in the normal grocery stores, including good ol’ Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, which I stocked up on, just because. We also picked up another bottle of Sriracha sauce, since we were getting low. I also picked up a can of Del Monte creamed corn, because that’s also a “foreign” food and I get a craving for it occasionally and can’t be bothered to make my own. You know you’re an expat when something like a can of creamed corn is a special treat.

However, the big find was a jar of molasses!!!! I had used the last of my jar of Grandma’s Molasses late last year and had been dreading going to the expat food store on Steenweg to buy more, because their prices are so expensive. They charge twice the amount the toko does for baking soda. A can of Libby’s canned pumpkin cost me more than €6 a number of years ago. I don’t use molasses often; in fact, I probably only use it to make my own bbq sauce, but the sauce just isn’t right without it.

When I see something pleasantly unexpected, I have a habit of somewhat loudly saying, “OH!!” I’m not snobby about what excites me. It can be a church in Mantova designed by Alberti or a bottle of black strap molasses on a bottom shelf of a store in Utrecht. G teases me about it regularly. But sometimes you just can’t contain your joy over a happy surprise!

After also purchasing some ras el-hanout spice blend, some ground cumin, and some spring roll/loempia wrappers, we headed next door to Blokker, another shop with a mix of odds and ends, mainly of the household variety. We went in to look at their food processors, since ours broke a while back, but before we made it that far, we were stopped by the collection of knick-knacks commemorating Queen Beatrix standing down and Prince Willem-Alexander taking the throne. It happens on 30 April, which is also Queen’s Day, a public holiday, so we figured we’d get a little something to commemorate the day. After all, how often do you get to experience a royal change of crowns. We were tempted by the kabouter/gnome, but decided to just go with the more useful placemats (seen in the photo) and we bought some matching coffee mugs, just for the fun of it. They were all 99 cents each, so hardly a big splurge. Still, a fun and useful way to remember the event.

By that point, we figured we’d better get out of there before we bought more silly stuff, so off we finally went to the outdoor market held every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. We picked up some shrimp for dinner tonight and I bought a big bag full of okra for dinner tomorrow or Monday. The toko carries okra, but the stall at the market has better stuff and for less, along with a number of other vegetables that are harder to find here. We were just about out of the market when we heard one of the vendors hawking his fresh strawberries. One more inexpensive impulse purchase and we were done, heading to the grocery store for a few odds and ends we couldn’t get at the market.

So that’s typical expat shopping. We embrace our new life here, buying items for the upcoming Dutch holiday, while also remembering favorite traditions and foods from home, be it America or Italy. With the sun shining and a good mood, it’s a fun way to shop and be reminded of how lucky we are to be able to broaden our horizons.

13 thoughts on “Expat Shopping

  1. You can buy American products at the Oriental at the Amsterdamsestraatweg. The Jumbo at the Merelstraat has American products too. Vermont maple syrup is one of the items they have.

    • I’ve been meaning to check out Jumbo for years, but we just never bother, since it’s on the opposite side of town and so far we’ve found most of the things we want. Having a mini fridge also means we’re better off not being tempted by a large store. 😉 I’ll have to check out Oriental, though. I know Amsterdamsestraatweg has a ton of great stores, but it helps to have a specific shop name to look for to stop it from being so overwhelming!

  2. Alison,
    The quickest, cheapest and easiest way to make creamed corn is to pour a tin of regular corn kernels into a jug and take your “staafmixer” (stick blender) into it until you get the consistency you like.

    Do note: don’t buy the cheapest brand of corn kernels for this, buy the biggest brand name: I never thought there was any difference when we just had them as regular corn kernels but the economy brands are *not half as sweet* once you’ve turned them into creamed corn. On this we can really taste the difference.

    There’s nothing like corn you’ve creamed yourself with tacco shells, tacco mix meat, guac and jalepenos!

    Cool Tee-shirt! I might just visit Hema!

    • I hadn’t thought about using the staafmixer. Good idea! I do know what you mean about the difference in quality. I definitely choose the brand depending on how I’m going to be serving it.

      Hema has some cute Jip en Janneke t-shirts, as well, but unfortunately they’re only in kid size. 😉

  3. You just described my usual shopping jaunt. Except for the creamed corn and molasses – yesterday it was yellow mustard for me 🙂 Don’t miss the weekly drive-to-shop experience in the US at all. Well, the salad dressings…don’t get me started.

    • I love the Zaanse Schans mosterd and my salad dressing tastes are fairly simple — olive oil and lemon juice or ranch dressing, which our local store stocks — so I’m pretty lucky. I didn’t buy a lot of packaged stuff in the US, so I only have occasional cravings rather than major gaps in what I’m used to. I enjoyed grocery shopping in the US but I also like the multi-shop trips here for special ingredients. And I should mention that there are ingredients that are easy to find here that were almost impossible to find in the US, so it works both ways!

    • I’m sure some of the tokos and other shops in A’dam should have molasses. Our toko does have the large bottles of Sriracha, but this size usually lasts us a couple of months, since I also have various bottles of Tabasco.

  4. One of the newer, big AH here have expanded their assortment, and now has quite an impressive Asian and American products on display. Of course that is quite relative. 😉 But I have noticed more and more international products are finding their way into my regular supermarket. I’m also lucky yo have a really good Turkish supermarket, where you can even find clotted cream!

    Oriental is huge, and unlike many other tokos, you can find a store all over the country as it’s a chain. It’s even online, so you can check out what they have on offer and what’s on sale.

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