I could never find Tahini paste at the grocery store in Minneapolis. There was one time, where I found it at a store far from where I normally shopped (and was amazed at how expensive it was), but never did I succeed in finding it at the Rainbow down the street.
I found it today. It was next to the honey. Perhaps that is where I was amiss before. I was never to think it should be kept near the honey, jam and peanut butter. (If you’re not the ‘chef’ type, you may not be aware that Tahini paste, something made from mashing sesame seeds, is often used as a seasoning in things like humus and other eastern dishes. Generally nothing at all to do with the toppings of ones morning toast.)
This is often a problem I find. I think it is likely a result of having people stock shelves that don’t read English. There comes a product they can only make out from it’s label or shape and not knowing directly what it is or may be used for, they place it near other products that are shaped similarly and have similar pictures or writing. As it happens, the tahini paste was in a bottle very similar to the honey next to it. Even I, a native English speaker, had to take a second look to make sure it was what I thought it was, because it seemed to fit in so nicely.
It is always a trick to figure out a new grocery store. Like the Chinese alphabet, there is not always an obvious way with which to categorize items. Tahini, for instance, might go near the spice rack with other seasonings. Or perhaps with ethnic foods. One never does know, even at a traditional store in the middle of Minneapolis.
I remember once reading a book about a boy who gets stranded out in the woods after a plane crash, and he describes how he finally succeeds in hunting a certain type of ground fowl. Instead of trying to recognize their color and feathers the way we superficially would try and find a human being in the forest, he learns to search for their shape and outline. I will have to be prudent of this technique when I go shopping for something similarly obscure.
Or maybe not so obscure.
Sugar, for instance, I would look for in a baking isle. This doesn’t exist in most Chinese supermarkets, and certainly not the one in the basement of my own building. The closest china gets to a traditional baked item is a little muffin like bun that is steamed.
I once saw some baking mixes – cakes and brownies kind of thing – next to the bags of rice. There is a reasonable population of expats that live in this building, so I think the supermarket in the basement tries to somewhat cater to the market. But the sugar wasn’t in sight.
Interestingly enough I quite randomly found, for who would think to look there, frosting (the kind that Pillsbury produces in those little cylindrical jars) in an isle next to teas and coffees. Sugar wasn’t next to frosting either. It turned out it was in its own section, next to soup mixes and fish seasonings and, get this, giant bags of MSG (again, they both look quite similar both being white crystals, and come in the same clear plastic bags).
Interestingly enough there was an enormous selection of sugars! Tablespoon sized mono-crystal sugar, almost syrupy thick brown sugar, raw sugar, large clumps of small sugary crystals, and dozens of different brands of normal granulated white sugar, all in similarly sized packets and going at the same prices. It was a great surprise to me, once I did find it. I’d been looking for sugar the day before and had succeeded in finding only those individual packets or cubes with coffee and tea stuffs.
(Having decided on sugar cubes, thinking they must be useful ways to prevent the need of an extra spoon, later realized that the downfall is… quite obviously …. Sugar cubes are quantized, and so one cannot take but a pre-determined serving sized dose, no matter the smallness of ones cup of tea that is in need of sweetening. So be forewarned, if you have ventured to read this far, that although charming, you might find yourself wanting to sweeten a very small amount of tea, with a very large amount of sugar. I’ll close my parentheses now).
When you move to a new place, there’s always a learning curve associated with figuring out where the nearest Target is, and where to find your usual items in the local grocery store. As of course you would expect, this curve exists when you move overseas. It’s sometimes a bit more entertaining – if you’ll give yourself the chance to see it that way.