As our country is dominated more and more by multi national corporations, some of the charm has gone out of traveling around the US - one strip mall looks an awful lot like another. Sometimes when we are overseas and suffering from a weak dollar and mystery meals, a safe, predictable McDonald's burger fits the bill, but most of the time it is so much more interesting to eat local. And that goes for grocery shopping, too. We have discount swipe cards for our favorite stores at home and have been surprised how often they worked just fine in stores with different names all across the US. They are all related to each other corporately.
Here in southern Texas there are really only two places to shop for groceries. You can probably guess the first one - Walmart. I was surprised to read that it sells more organic and "health" food than any other good purveyor, but that must be a function of its market dominance of everything everywhere. The other choice is HEB. We call it the "HEEB," but locals simply say the letters. Advertising would make you believe that HEB stands for "Here Everything is Better," but we read that the Texas wide chain is owned by someone with those initials. His last name is Butt, which wouldn't do much for a grocery store or most any other business.
Shopping at the HEB is indeed a cultural experience. They are happy to have Winter Texans stop in, but the local TexMex population is obviously their bread and butter. I have never seen an entire aisle devoted to dried chiles and tortillas dominate the bread aisle. Some of the produce is a mystery, but at the napalito (cactus pad) stand, it did suggest that they are yummy sitrred into scrambled eggs. A store employee puts in major hours, scraping the thorns from the pads and chopping them into user friendly packages.
Chicago is known for its pizza and it had been my impression that there are lots of good pizzas available almost everywhere (the ones in Italy take some getting used to). But we've been surprised to discover that once we are 200 miles form home, it is impossible to buy a pizza topped with sausage and mushrooms. You can get veggie ones, cheese only ones, four meat ones, but no mushroom and sausage. Sadly this is our favorite, worked out after years of marriage as a compromise between the veggie ones I like and the meaty ones Ken favors. Guess I'll have to start making pizza from scratch.
If you keep up with health studies, sooner or later every food, especially those that are really tasty, is bad for you. With this depressing information, my theory is to eat a little bit of everything and that goes for the soy and tofu products my vegetarian family members favor. Well, you aren't going to find a soy or tofu anything at the HEB or the Walmarts around here. I was wondering why and a friend suggested that perhaps there is no room for these products, because there is so much Mexican fare for sale. Makes sense.
This friend has issues with wheat gluten and has found grocery shopping here a real challenge. After much research she discovered a health food store in downtown McAllen which I would compare to a Trader Joe's at home. As she stocked up on the gluten free and I looked for veggie burgers, I noticed that this store was doing a great business, but practically every customer was a Winter Texan. Hope they can hang on until we all come back again.