Adventures in Russian Grocery Shopping

We recently returned to Moscow after being home for the holidays and I’ve already had my first exhausting trip to the enormous beast of a supermarket, Ashan. Going to Ashan requires mental preparation and a playbook for tackling the aisles (which I fear would take me years to create). It’s also better that you have a whole day free, just in case. As I mentioned before, sometimes the aisles are shut down for re-stocking. Inevitably it will be the aisle you are in. Just before you can grab that bag of pasta (or in my case it was chocolate), you find yourself stuck behind an orange rope wondering if they would notice you running and sliding under it, snatching the bag and running back out – a la Indiana Jones for his hat or something. If only I could be so stealthy. So anyway, if you ever go to Ashan, be sure to factor in an additional 40 minutes of aisle re-stock wait time.

Ashan reminds me almost of Ikea in size, Target in available items to purchase, and a dollar store or Ross in display/the overall look. The one that I go to has electronics, clothes, books, furniture, home goods, cleaning supplies, car stuff, etc on the first floor. The bottom floor is the supermarket. To get from one floor to the other they have flat escalators like this:

The first time I went, as happy as I was to find a good hair straightener for 30 bucks and all the sirok (a Russian calorie bomb of cheesecake-like filling covered in chocolate) I could possibly ever want to eat, I suddenly missed American grocery stores. Even the Shop Rite by our house in Jersey…the Shop Rite I say I can’t stand! The aisles at Shop Rite are equally as packed, but at least there people ask you nicely to move your cart. In Ashan if your cart is in the way they just slam right through it. One minute you are frantically trying to pick a type of rice because the aisle re-stocking police are lurking around the corner and the next minute you are picking yourself off the ground after someone pushed through you. You look up only to see the sweetest most innocent looking grandma. They are the worst.

Sirok selection

I’m always nervous that I stick out as a foreigner. Mostly because I smile and get myself stuck between people’s carts as I try to carefully squeeze between them as opposed to through them, but also because I move so slowly. I also wish I could go through the store with more efficient fluidity. Visiting each aisle I need to only once. Instead I go back and forth, returning from one side of the store to the other, going back to the same aisle 3 or 4 times, skittishly dodging little old ladies the whole way.

The different selections of products is unexpected as well. Like half the tomato sauce or spice section is all the same type. But they have almost an entire aisle of different flavors of mayonnaise. It is actually quite fascinating how many flavors of mayonnaise there are. Also, a lot of the milk is not refridgerated, but the mayo is. Milk also comes in insane variety and unfortunatley I am not sure which one I should be drinking.

All the Ashan stores are a few metro stops outside the city center and have reasonable prices compared to those right in the center – which is why I go. Unfortunately because of their distance, and because I am normally there on my own, I can’t buy too much or anything too heavy (like juice or water). I consider riding the metro and walking from the metro home with a backpack, a mini duffle bag and a reusable shopping bag full of groceries my weekly cardio session. For the heavy items or when I just need a couple things, or when I am not in the mental state of mind to tackle Ashan, we visit the city center stores. In the center there are generally two types of markets.

One type is the more ‘gourmet’ looking stores with a pretty good variety of things. You can’t necessarily get everything you need, but it’s still a very pleasant place to shop. Kind of like a little grocery store in New York City. Some have excellent cheese sections or great ready made lunch items. Produce is displayed a little more elegantly (in Ashan you just pick through huge cardboard boxes of produce that looks like it literally came out of the dirt and went right to the store…which I kind of like. Very natural feel…One time I saw  an egg in a carton that had feathers on it). These are more relaxing to me. Almost like when I browse through Whole Foods  at home because I feel like I need therapy after Shop Rite. Or Mollie Stones in California. Which I miss with all my heart.

Inside Ashan

Produce display in Ashan

The Eleseevksy Aliya Parusa Market - the more calming type of store

Meat and Cheese at Aliya Parusa

Then there is the other type of market which is basically like a 7-Eleven or a Krauzers. These are fine when you need something quick like chips (paprika flavor Pringles are the BEST and we haven’t been able to find them in the States), drinks, or candy. The only problem with these is that they always seem to have a scary outside. They just pop up on the corner of a street out of nowhere and you don’t always want to go in:

The very welcoming store front...where you can shop with inmates

The grocery store experience has been really interesting and fun. I love that we have items we like and miss when we are in the States (like the paprika Pringles). Shopping in Moscow builds character and endurance. Every time I go to Ashan I am more and more ready to face the aisles and their obstacles…right down to the very last babushka.

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3 Responses to “Adventures in Russian Grocery Shopping”

  1. It’s best for you to get used to our Ashans, it’s good trading network:) If you are afraid of its size, there is one of the smallest Ashan in Moscow near my home (five-minute walk from Yniversitet metro station). The selection of goods is not so great as in big Ashans (and not so many sirki:))), but it’s from my point of view more comfortable and calm.

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