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Food & Drink

What You Can Learn About a Country from Its Supermarkets

We all know you can learn a lot about a person from his or her work desk, reading list, or even medicine cabinet. But can you apply similar rules to a country and its people?

Sure. Just check out the extensive frozen food aisles in most U.S. supermarkets, and you’ll quickly realize how much most Americans love to save time by relying on easy, convenient, premade food. So what can supermarkets tell you about people in other countries?

Carolyn Spencer Brown, Chief Content Strategist at Cruise Critic, was surprised to learn that not all Italians spend hours making pasta by hand.

“The vast array of premade pasta at a Tuscany co-op certainly disabused us of the notion that all Italian hand-make theirs,” she wrote on Facebook.

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I discovered that Romanians are not above making fun of their vampiric association when I found a potato chip dipping sauce called “Let’s Dip Dracula.”

When we asked our readers on Facebook what they’ve learned about a country on their foreign supermarket forays, people were quick to chime in.

Sheila of Sheila’s Travel Page had a similar epiphany to Brown’s. “I assumed that everywhere tropical used fresh squeezed juice, but in the grocery store there was a whole aisle of Tetra Pak juice. People living in the tropics don’t have time to squeeze juice, just like me!”

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And Tamara M. Goldstein wrote that visiting supermarkets abroad reminds her that most people in the world don’t have huge refrigerators. “In the USA we have so many sizes of one product; however, in most European countries there is one, maybe two sizes of a product,” she wrote. “They don’t have gigantic refrigerators like we have nor do they have walls filled with cupboards.”

Do you visit supermarkets in the countries you visit? What have you noticed?

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— written by Dori Saltzman

By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of IndependentTraveler.com. Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

Email Sarah at sschlichter@smartertravel.com.

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