What to expect at the grocery store.

Let’s carry on with our shopping discussion!

Shopping for food can take some adjustment. Most grocery stores have open-air meat sections. This usually means that the area in the vicinity of the meat counter smells like raw meat. Not all of the store, just be aware that when meat is not shrink wrapped on plastic trays before it’s brought to the store floor, there is an odor. You can pick your own meat, using the tongs and baggie provided, or you can ask the person behind the counter to do it for you. You order in grams or kilos. (Half a kilo is roughly a pound. 250 gr is roughly a half a pound.) Increasingly, I’m starting to see more meat counters that are behind glass. The meat is still there all loose, though. You just HAVE to have the clerk get it for you. Invariably, it’s put into a plastic bag, weighed, labeled and sealed. You can ask them to double bag it if you like. S&R (Philippines version of Costco) has prepackaged meat, but it’s in larger quantities, so if you have a small family, you’ll want to throw some into ziplocks and freeze it when you get home.

Butchering practices here are not so refined. So, you will want to wash any chunks of meat just to make sure any bone bits are gone. Chicken is notoriously poorly butchered. Instead of separating pieces cleanly at the joints, they hack it with a cleaver and get kind of close. They have actually been getting better in my area, though, and I expect over time fractured chicken bones will be completely a thing of the past. In the meantime, you may want to either opt for boneless chicken, carefully select your own chicken parts at the counter, or just learn to separate your own whole chicken into parts. The latter isn’t really all that hard and can be done in just a minute or two.

In the fruit and veg aisles, the produce has to be weighed THERE, not at the cash register. Sometimes they will have some packages already weighed and labeled. Usually, though, you pick what you want and bag it up and then hand it over to be weighed. Sometimes they will just have a station in the middle of an aisle. Sometimes they will have the stands set up in a square around the station, so you just hand it across to the person in the middle. If you forget to have it weighed, it’s not the end of the world, but they will have to run it from the check-out back to the produce section to have it priced, so try to remember.

Aside from all of that, grocery stores are grocery stores, really. There are signs above the aisles telling you what is in them. Metro and Rustans have the most western-style supermarkets. They often have American, European, Chinese, and Japanese items in regular supply. Remember YOU are the outsider here, so check the foreign food aisles for American brands that haven’t gone mainstream here yet. (Duncan Hines cake mix is in the baking aisle, while Cheerios and ranch dressing may be in the foreign food aisle.) Many supermarkets will have small prepared food stands or service areas (like leather or watch repair) at the front, and often there will be a pharmacy counter.

At the check-out, sometimes the registers are so close that there is no room for you to push your cart through in front of you. In that case, the expectation is that you will unload your cart onto the conveyor, and then push it back to the area between the cashier aisles (Like where the magazines are) and a worker will come pick up the carts periodically. If you are only buying a little, they will bag it up and hand it over. (Cloth bag use is spreading here and many towns are banning plastic shopping bags, so come with your cloth bags or you may end up with your food in really thin paper bags or used boxes.) If you have a lot, they will load up another cart for you.

Many stores offer assistance getting your bags to your car. You can tip P10-20 for their help, or just decline and handle it yourself.

More and more stores have loyalty cards nowadays. Sometimes there is a yearly or one-time fee equal to a few dollars. Usually it means that you accrue points that can be used toward your bill, and sometimes they come with discounts elsewhere. The points expire at year’s end, though, so be sure to use them!


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