On Grocery Shopping

One thing I was majorly excited to experience in a new country was grocery shopping! (Just joking:) However, I did look forward to experiencing the differences of actually living in a new culture. I’ve had the opportunity to do some travel in Europe and I studied abroad in Spain but I didn’t quite know how to prepare for life in Amsterdam. I’d never BEEN to the Netherlands! And although I ‘lived’ in Spain for 4 months, my cousin and I existed in somewhat of a dream land. Our Senora (an older woman we lived with) cooked ALL of our meals and did our laundry every week. We didn’t shop for groceries, learn new appliances, enter 2 year phone contracts, or register with local authorities!

So, I was curious about grocery shopping. Known for its local markets, Amsterdam has a plethora of food, book, clothing, art, and junk markets throughout the city. Do people do all their produce and meat shopping at local markets? Are there big super markets? Do you get toilet paper at the outdoor market? Are the markets open year round? See, lots of questions. Of course I make grocery shopping a little more of an ordeal and force a ethnography experience…but I do find it fascinating…this whole adjustment to life.

Facts to Consider:

  • There is a big super market chain in the city called Albert Heijn. There is an AH (some bigger than others) about every 10 blocks. We have a mini store about 3 blocks and a normal USA size AH about 10 blocks from our apartment.
  • We don’t have a car (nor does anyone else in the city)
  • All purchased items must be dragged up 2 flights of very steep stairs
  • It rains a lot
  • You have to bring your own bags to the grocery store (or pay .50 for every bag you use) – Ironically most of the produce sellers at markets will give you a plastic bag for your fruits and veggies but the chain supermarkets make you pay
  • You must bag your own groceries while the next person in line is paying and their groceries are shooting down the belt. Even the locals get a little frantic packing up all their eggs and cheese.
  • Our fridge and freezer are tiny. We don’t have a pantry yet.
  • All labels are written in Dutch…try asking a 18 year old stock boy which carton is heavy whipping cream.

So begins the cultural and behavior shift from semi- urban U.S. living to city dwelling Amsterdam. I look for the absolute smallest sized items possible. (And in general they don’t stock large options). I purchase the smallest bag of flour, rice, sugar, peanut butter…not to mention soap, toilet paper, laundry detergent…If I bought the size I would normally buy at home I would fill one bag with detergent and flour! And I can only carry 2 (3 bags max) home from the store! Today, I also had to use my umbrella so there was no way I could have lugged home a 12 roll toilet paper pack!

I make a list of meals I want to prepare for 4 days max (I did this in the U.S. as well). I break my list into produce/meat, pantry items, and maybe a separate column for cheese/bread (in case I come across a cute bread or cheese shop). There is a great farmer’s market close to our house on Saturdays so we went and crossed off all our produce for the week (including a great stall that has oodles of mushrooms for a risotto I wanted to make). For the next day or two whenever I went out I brought my shopping bags. I did find a bread shop and cheese store so those items came off the list. Then I headed to our big supermarket and picked up everything else. All my trips were separate but I kept working from the same list so it was quite easy. You do have to stick to your meals but I like advance meal planning:)

I have had a couple of issues. I can’t seem to distinguish between butter and margarine. The butter section is overwhelming…I bought a tub that translated to ‘butter’ on my translate app but it’s margarine. Or the butter is different…I can’t decide. I’m also having huge issues with laundry detergent. I can’t find any US detergent in the stores and I’m having issues. ALL the dark colors seem to bleed (even when I use the ‘colored’ detergent). I have MAYBE ruined 2 shirts in the previous 20 years that I’ve done laundry. In the past 3 weeks I have ruined 4 shirts, 2 pillowcases, and most of my white socks. I wash everything on snowflake mode (aka cold) and if there are white polka dots on a black shirt the white is slowly turning gray…or blue. Anyways, I’d really like some Tide.

Overall I’m adapting and enjoying the whole experience. It just seems to be a mind shift and I feel like I’m out on the streets more exploring for the best food possible. I love that. However, this might all change when I get a job. Or, I’ll just need to do everything on Saturday and bring some muscle.

Albert Heijn is the main grocery store I shop at. So far they stock everything I’ve needed except tahini.

Saturday Organic Food Market in Niewemarket

Mushrooms I have never seen before at the outdoor market.


Bread at the market (all super markets and individual shops also have a large fresh baked bread section)

Marqt (peaceful, pricey, cheese samples) reminds me of Whole Foods but it has not become as popular in Amsterdam yet.


One of MANY cheese shops. If I haven’t purchased at the bigger supermarkets I’ll pop in and grab some cheese if I’m out.


4 thoughts on “On Grocery Shopping

  1. Seriously. Even your grocery shopping looks enchanting.

    (On a side note, sorry you couldn’t find me on Skype. I was busy last night, but I’ll have a chance to jump on tonight and tomorrow night. I’ll find you. We must catch up. Stat.)

    • You’re right! It would be impossible with a large family! We have only seen a couple of people with 3 kids in the city only 1 or 2. Bigger families live in the suburbs:) I think you might have to!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s