10 things you need to know before you go shopping
- Abandon hope of finding…….
- If you’re a Brit – HP sauce, really good bacon, white sliced bread or those squidgy little baps; sausages, cheddar, Heinz Sandwich Spread; Branston pickle, Worcester sauce, baked beans. Hellmanns. Proper tea.
- If you’re from the US – good peanut butter, brown sugar, molasses, proper chocolate chips, baking powder; pre-made gluten free things like cupcakes and cinnamon rolls; almond flour, bigger packages of sliced cheese.
- If you’re an Aussie – a varied selection of dips, TimTams, Cherry Ripe chocolate, self-raising flour, beef at a decent price, silverbeet…..
Strangely, my extensive research revealed that Eastern European friends couldn’t think of anything they particularly miss from home but then, they are still getting over communism, so who can blame them?! However, my research also reveals that ex pats of all nationalities are very happy to be able to buy: booze and cheap cigarettes (Ozzies are particularly made up about this); foods with fewer pesticides nuked all over them (popular with Americans) and for many of us, just one slice of German bread can make you feel like a real Powerfrau.
2. A word about flour
Flour is a logical commodity. It is not a gutsy, burgeoning, wholesome, organic ingredient that you fling into your baking products with love and gay abandon as you sing lullabies and nurturing tunes. It is a serious business and we need to take it seriously. Thus, here in Germany we have ‘Types’ of flour with numbers eg 405 and 630. 812 and 550. We also give the flour names. Lots of names so we can be specific, detailed and thorough. For example, Bio Weizen Mehl/Dinkelmehl and Roggen VollKornmehl. But then there’s also Roggen Dinkelbrot/Vollkorn-Sauerteig and quite how this differs from the Roggen Vollkornmehl is something that I always intend to apply my mind too – after I’ve finished plucking the hairs out of my arm pits with a pair of tweezers. Combine these names with the numbers and you have the ideal product to make some amazing baked goods. Trouble is, none of my ex pat friends know how to do this! Thus, bringing my own Self-Raising and Plane flour through duty free (get that? Just 2 types) and of course, Baking Powder is my chosen option. Or else I just give up and go to the bakery.
3. Friday night convenient food in front of the telly
This is a concept you need to learn to let go of. Tesco meal for 2 for 10 pounds? ASDA curry selection for not very much? M&S dine in for 1? (yes I know it should be for 2 but only if you have pigeon appetites). These little treats are now a thing of the past as you acknowledge that German supermarkets don’t really ‘do’ ready meals. Sure, you can get a ‘pasta bowl’ and possibly even a ‘Schweinbraten for one’ but it’s just not the same. The good news is that you can probably go out and eat at an Indian or Chinese restaurant for what your ready meal would cost you in the UK but yeh – sometimes it’s nice to stay in and put your feet up.
4. The checkout
Here, we see the egalitarian nature of German culture at its finest. Before standing in line you must be prepared for, what can feel like, the pressure of a table tennis game without the bats. Don’t expect the cashier to be friendly or chatty with you – that just ain’t gonna happen. Your goods will be swiped the minute they hit the conveyor belt (and whilst the previous customer is still bagging up) and then thrown at you by the checkout chick (or cock – what is the male version of a chick?). Broccoli, couscous, tulips and toilet roll will all end up in a massive heap unless you get your bag technique sussed. Good catching skills are a must. NO ONE is going to help you so abandon all thoughts of taking your 3 young children with you.
5. The Getränkemarkt
This is, I think, a uniquely German concept. Basically, it is a drinks cash and carry. You get all your drinks in one place – like a big bottle bank – then take all your empties back afterwards and get some money back for the bottles. However, you do need two essentials in order to benefit fully from this efficiency: a car and storage space in your apartment. I mean you COULD do it without a car but then you’d have to pull one of those dinky little carts around behind you like one of the seven dwarves. Do you seriously want to do that?
6. What’s on the shelves and in the aisles
Be amazed that you will almost certainly complete your big weekly shop in under 30 minutes (single girl stats). And that includes hanging about at the deli counter. In the 5 years that I have lived in Lohhof and shopped at my local Edeka, the tea bags are still in the same tea bag aisle; the cheese and yoghurt are still in the same chiller cabinet and loo rolls and sanitary protection are exactly where they were 5 years ago. Nothing has changed and I like this. It is most efficient on my precious time. I can whizz in, whizz out, pick up exactly what I want from where I know it will be and not get distracted or overwhelmed by huge aisles full of hundreds of different assortments of biscuits, a thousand varieties of crisps or special offers that I don’t really need. The aisles, however, can be extremely irritating. They are frequently filled with the clutter of boxes, big trolleys full of goods, and shelf stackers from the same charm school as the checkout chicks/cocks. This can slow things down.
7. Small is beautiful
This aspect of shopping divides my ex pat buddies more than any other. Whilst big supermarkets like Kaufland exist and have their place and loyal clientele, most of the other supermarkets are considerably smaller than anything you will find in the UK and other places around the globe. This is great if you believe in the concept of seasonal eating and allowing local communities to exist more easily by supporting local businesses (the butcher, baker, cheese man, greengrocer, pharmacy et al all thrive on my local high street as well as the supermarket). But if you like to get a big shop done in one fell swoop from one shop, you will be less impressed.
8. Pork and more pork
When I first arrived in Munich I was a regular meat eater and, like many first visitors, attacked food like schweinhaxel and bratwurst with relish. However, once I’d done the whole Schweinhaxel/Schweinbraten/medallions/chops/mince/roulades/sausages-of-every variety-thing, I began to feel a bit pigged out. There’s a lot of pork here. Which is great. If you like pork. You CAN get beef and lamb but usually only at the deli counter (apart from minced beef which is easily available) and it is SO expensive it is prohibitive for my budget, unless I am ill (when the very good steak is a real treat). You can get chicken but again, not in the quantities/cuts that you can in the UK or US and if you’re a meat eater this may prove something of a challenge. I miss being able to get a good sized chicken for a Sunday roast easily. Sometimes my local has them, sometimes not. I can get Bio chickens at ‘Denns’ but they cost an arm and a leg. So increasingly I eat less meat. And that’s probably a good thing. And I have been forced to consider how cheap meat is produced and just how disgusting those massive rows of cheap chickens are back in the supermarkets in Blighty. And that’s probably a good thing too.
9. Not open 24/7
Like other aspects of life in Bavaria, the selective opening times of shops is the antithesis of a 24/7 lifestyle and this pisses a lot of ex pats off. Personally I like it. But then, I am of an age where chilling the f*#k out occasionally has become a luxury I now insist on having in my life. I like getting to the weekend and knowing that if I get all my ‘stuff’ done on Saturday, I can have Sunday off! Better still, if I get it done during the working week I can have a whole weekend to myself! Like organizing what groceries to buy where, this concept has all kinds of implications for personal time management and ultimately leads to better productivity for me – more productive leisure and wellness time. Embrace it. It works. And if you’re desperate for that pint of milk or loaf of bread you can always head for Edeka at the airport or that place at Hauptbahnhof. They are open most Sundays and public holidays.
What precisely is Quark?