Time to go food shopping.
I take my zebra-striped, shopping trolley, thingy-on-wheels down in the elevator. (The trolley is a back saver and the price was right because it was a free hand-me-down, but it makes me feel like a little old lady. I swallow my dignity and exit the apartment building with it anyway.)
I walk the few blocks to the local food store. Inside the entrance, I stick a plastic key into the mechanism of the first cart in the stack and uncouple it from the one it’s attached to. This is how most stores keep their carts from being abandoned in parking lots and removed to points unknown. You can use either one of the plastic keys that food stores give out or a five crown coin as a deposit. Either way you want to get it back so you return the cart.
I stow the zebra trolley underneath the shopping cart and push on.
The first thing I see after entering is that they’ve already got crates and crates of “Julmust” for sale. Julmust is a soft drink sold only at Christmas (or “Jul”) except for when it’s sold at Easter and is called Påskmust (Påsk means Easter). But seriously, most people think of it as a Christmas alternative to the hard stuff.
Next up is the vegetable section. The main staples are iceberg lettuce and cucumbers. The tomatoes come from Spain—not much produce can be grown in Scandinavia’s climate.
I wheel my cart past the meat section. I feel too shy to take on trying to order special meat or fish so I’ve never bought anything there.
The dairy section is a thing to behold in a Swedish store. I’ve mentioned it before in this blog so I won’t belabor the point. But suffice it to say that there is a plethora of dairy here–20 kinds each of plain yoghurt, milk, cream, and more. And that’s not even counting the generous lactose-free and organic (“ekologisk”) sections.
There are great sauces in Sweden. I’m not a meat lover but I do eat meat and I tell you, it tastes so much better with all the ready-made sauces available. Even when it’s just an international sauce like béarnaise, it just tastes ridiculously good here in Sweden.
There’s not a big cereal section. In fact, in the store I shop at, they keep it in a section they have labeled “Bread” for some reason. You can see in the picture that there are not a lot of sugar cereals. Corn flakes are big. Most Swedes I know eat yoghurt and an open-faced sandwich rather than cereal in the morning. Some put some granola into their yoghurt.
There is an amazing amount of baked goods in Swedish stores. You can always count on there being fresh cinnamon buns as well as many kinds of breads and pastries. I skip that section because I go to the gluten-free section. In addition to the fresh breads, there is plenty of shelf real estate given to the hard breads and crackers.
Somewhere near the cash register in every self-respecting Swedish food store (and even every 7-11), is…wait for it…the candy wall. (You should imagine a heavenly choir singing when I mention the candy wall.) The candy wall is a self-serve affair where you use plastic scoops to put your selections into a paper bag. Then it’s weighed. The candy’s freshness varies depending on the store but in general it’s pretty wonderful. Most of the candy is of the jelly kind, “Swedish fish” doesn’t begin to cover it. There are jelly tongues, frogs, fried eggs, and lips.
If you pass the candy wall because you’re too mature for such things or you avoid carbs or you want to skip the diabetic coma, then you can help yourself to the gum section. I’m sorry but I just can’t be objective about the gum. It’s nasty here. Seriously, black licorice gum? Mint gum that’s so strong it’s like to take our lips off? Eucalyptus gum? Cactus flavor? I have yet to see a cactus in Sweden so that’s just wrong.
OK, the Grapefruit gum is not so bad but it takes a little getting used to.
Time to check out. If I want to put my groceries in bags, I have to estimate how many I’ll need and pay for them long before I start bagging them. There are no baggers in Swedish grocery stores. Experience has taught me that it’s important to put the heaviest items on the conveyer belt first because otherwise they’ll crush the delicate items in front of them. The cashiers use a divider bar to separate one customer’s groceries from another’s. I find it kind of stressful. As soon as I have paid, I have to begin madly bagging my groceries because other customers’ groceries are going to start piling up next to mine. And if I am really slow, then the 3rd customer’s groceries have nowhere to go but into my “chute.”
Whew! I got my bags into the shopping trolley and I returned the cart. Now it’s time to lug my purchase home and celebrate my accomplishments by eating a few Swedish fish.