Sunday, March 29, 2009

Markets and Magic

Sozopol, Bulgaria

Paris, France

Oxford, England

Thessaloniki, Greece 

Prague, Czech Republic

Barcelona, Spain

Budapest, Hungary

Sofia, Bulgaria (Halite)

Buying food abroad is fundamentally different than buying it in your hometown. Most obviously and least importantly, things have different names. Most importantly, things are in different places. 

Lisa, Max, Brett and I discovered one such place last weekend while poking around downtown Sofia. En route to the far side of the downtown, we ran up against a huge red and white stone building. Could this be, I wondered, the mythical "Halite"? I had often heard of the Halite marketplace, where, virtual tourist and actual tourist alike claimed, you could find just about anything. As we walked through the huge front doors all my Halite dreams came true. There they all were, the fruit stands, the bakery stalls, the ice cream store, the little cafes. There was even an open air art gallery and a candle stand. Max bought an espresso, and I made a mental note of future possibilities. 

Such discoveries are fun, and I've enjoyed making them throughout our travels. There is something mesmerizing about walking into a marketplace or square stuffed with new kinds of food. Even more magical however, has been the process of discovering the things I actually need at my own grocery store. 

Imagine yourself with your shopping list at your favorite grocery store. Now imagine that an angry two-year-old had wreaked havoc on your store, throwing the chocolate milk next to the bacon, the pasta sauce behind the candy, the frozen blueberries next to the cookies. In a final fit of rage, he tore off all the labels. The store now has 55,000 items, no order that you know, and no labels. Good luck finding all the ingredients for your famous chili! 

For the first few months in Bulgaria, this was how I felt when I went out attempting to purchase certain sorely-needed items. Then, suddenly, I began to discover areas, aisles, special sections. Rosemary caught my attention in a wall of refrigerated anonymity. Chicken bullion cubes drew my eye from a little nook near the floor on Aisle 3. An entire half row of Thai products magically appeared to Brett as if in a dream. 

Wandering the foreign markets of the world is a joy. Camera snapping memories, I taste a pastry here, hold my nose against the smell of fish there. But the true triumph, as usual with ex-pat life, lies in small steps of everyday adjustment. I have finally earned my Bulgarian supermarket navigation badge, and you won't catch a prouder shopper at the awards ceremony.

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