When it comes to grocery shopping in Curacao, it can be quite a different experience than shopping at a North American or European grocery store chain. The island life means that you won’t be privy to a large variety of products that are in an endless supply. A lot of times it is just the opposite. Don’t expect to find every product that you used to use religiously when you lived outside of the Caribbean or you will be in for disappointment.
But, as the slogan goes here in the tropics, don’t worry about it and be happy with what you are able to find. If you search hard enough you will be pleasantly surprised by the types of products that are available here. On that note, be sure not to get too attached because chances are when you need that particular product again, you may have to wait until the next shipment comes in.
This has, in fact, taught me a very important lesson in life. The whole idea of choosing from less variety and low stock, although annoying at times, has helped me to become more detached to things in general and taught me to be more tolerant and accepting of the status quo. Rather than being fixated on the same brand or company, I have developed the motivation to try something new and support another brand. It has also been quite refreshing to choose from a limited variety of a particular product compared to becoming almost cross-eyed trying to figure out what brand I want to buy in a North American chain.
The outcome has been good as well as not so good at times. The challenge is to find a similar product to the one you are used to and to factor in difference in cost and quality. It might seem frustrating to the average person to have to go through such a tedious mental thought process while grocery shopping but that’s what comes with transitioning to a new lifestyle. The plus side is there will never be more than 4 brands to choose from which makes the experience a lot more reasonable.
My grocery store of choice would have to be Vreugdenhil because of its organic products, whole wheat bread products, fruit and vegetable selection and quality, dairy products and poultry. Most of the time I can find what I need but I’ve had to master the art of doing my groceries at the right time in the week. I have also learned to buy more than one of a particular product, like salsa, because I know that it will be gone in a day or two and the cost of alternate brands is sometimes double.
The Centrum grocery stores are my favourite for herbs and nuts, which come in a wide selection and are a good price compared to other stores. Albert Heijn, is the exception since it is a Holland chain. It has a great wine and cheese selection but I mainly go there for the hummus, chocolate, and crackers. But, they seem to always run out of their delicious hummus as does Vreugdenhill. I have been trying to avoid making my own but am slowly coming to the realization that I don’t have many other options.
The greatest advantage I think would be the cashier lines. At the grocery stores most, if not all, the cashiers are open for service even during slow periods throughout the day. You barely have to wait and there is always someone to bag your stuff and help you to your car. Of course, there are those times when the cashier needs help which may slow the pace down tremendously but it is bearable. In Canada, I cannot tell you how long I’ve waited in grocery line ups. Even during peak hours, only 3 out of 10 cashiers will be open and there is no one ever employed to bag the groceries like the old days.
I have heard that on occasion people have bought products that have already gone stale or have gone bad. This has also happened to me and it’s hard to know the true quality of the product upon purchase. In such a case you can return the item. From experience I now use the tactic of refraining from selecting a product that is the last or second last on the shelf or the only brand option left, especially for dry products like cereal or crackers. These could be hints that they have been on the shelf for too long.
Overall, I would say that I have been getting the hang of grocery shopping in Curacao. It is different than your average shopping experience but it’s nice to try something different now and then. There is always plenty of staff on the floor to help you find what you need and you will never strain your back and shoulders walking your bags to the car. Just make sure you have a couple of guilders to tip the baggers and don’t forget to bring your reusable bags!
This article is a guest column by Rajvee Mehta.