I was just working on my shopping list for Tuesday and it was making me think about food costs and things like that. One question that we often get asked is where we buy our food.
Once a week we send Yonese, the lady that works for us a couple days a week, to the market. Often she goes to Pierre Payen, but if we have other errands to do in St. Marc we’ll send her there. There are some things we get there that we can’t get here just because it’s a bigger center. Those things would be laundry detergent and chicken. We can get chicken here, but we don’t want to. When we buy it in St. Marc we buy it in a 40lb box frozen. When you buy it in the market they’ve bought it from someone who bought a case, and it sits in the heat, and…well, you understand.
Generally Yonese buys all of our fresh stuff. Veggies like tomatoes, potatoes, onions, watercress, green onions, garlic, carrots, avocados, cabbage, and even lettuce. She buys fruit too, which is really one of the best things about living in the Caribbean. When you can eat fresh fruit, you realize that what you get back in the grocery store in North America is not so hot, no matter how pretty it might be. Fruit is a lot more seasonal. Right now we’ve been eating a lot of watermelon, pineapple, melon Franse (like cantaloupe), other melons like honeydew, passion fruit (for making juice), sitwon (key limes – also for juice), and grenadine. We just cut a regime of bananas from our garden the other day and they’re super yummy. We’ve also had a second run of mangoes from our trees, and tons of corrisol (cohwisol – sour sop in English). Chris has been eating so much fruit he’s had heartburn for a week.
Yonese will also buy eggs for us. We buy them in flats of 2 1/2 dozen which is good because we eat a lot of eggs. I was a bit freaked out when I first moved here because the eggs weren’t refrigerated. They always sat out on the shelf. I learned over time that if eggs aren’t refrigerated they’ll be fine out of the fridge. I’ve taken a half and half stance on this simply because I find eggs crack and fry better when they’re cold. I have two foam egg cartons that I just keep refilling from the flats that sit on top of the fridge. With all of the cooking and baking I do I don’t find the eggs stay around long enough to go bad. I think most of the eggs in Haiti come in from the Dominican Republic and generally they’re a good size.
There are some small stores in St. Marc that I’ll occasionally go to for basics, but they don’t always have everything we need. More often than not Chris is going into Port au Prince at least once every two weeks and he’ll do a grocery shop at the bigger grocery stores. No Safeway or IGA here. We’ve got Caribbean Market, Eagle Market, several Deli Mart’s and a handful of other individual stores. There’s also Mega Mart which is a wholesale store, but we’ve been finding it’s not such a great deal and we often end up spending more than we need to.
When Chris is going in to do a grocery shop I always have to ask which store he’s going to be going to because there are certain stores that are more consistent with what they have in stock than others. We’ve sort of adopted the “if they don’t have it we go without” philosophy. It just takes too long to get anywhere in Port to be driving all over town looking for brown sugar. The result is that I’ve learned to be a much more creative and flexible cook.
With soaring food prices Chris and I have taken a good look at what we’re buying and where we can be cutting back. We realized that over time we started eating things, like cheese, as though they were cheap, and not a treat. We need to go back to eating them like they’re a treat, especially at about $5/lb.
By nature we don’t eat a lot of processed or pre-packaged food which actually saves us money. The cheapest things to eat here are veggies, fruit and meat. I was amazed, when we started doing the cost per pound comparison of meat here. Granted, you have to be a bit selective, but overall meat is pretty cheap compared to what we get back home. We can get chicken (thighs & legs) for less than $1 per pound. We can eat t-bone steaks for about $2/steak, and they’re a good sized steak. Ground beef is about the same as back home. We also like to try different stuff and take advantage of the resources around us so on occasion we’ve bought an animal, like a sheep or a pig, and had our friend fatten it up, then slaughter it for us. We were able to get some great smoked pork a month or so ago for half the cost of what we can find in the stores here.
Because we live on the beach we’ll often have local fisherman pass by to sell fresh fish. Just this weekend we bought 5 and I learned how to filet!
Rice is a staple here but we don’t eat a whole lot of it. Pasta is generally pretty cheap ranging in the $1-2 range for a box or package of noodles. About the same as back home. Spaghetti is cheap, about $.50 per package.
We can get yogurt and cheese and milk, though you have to watch the prices. You can buy the North American yogurt at about $5/carton, or you can buy the same size container of Haitian yogurt which we like for less. Plus, it supports the local economy which we like to do when possible. We buy three kinds of milk – unsweetened evaporated milk, powdered milk and UHT milk. The evaporated milk usually takes the place of cream. We were using it for our coffee, but then we realized that each little can was about $.35 so we stopped that and went back to mixing thicker powdered milk. I’ve also started to use powdered milk in baking and cooking again – anywhere where the taste is masked by other things. We use the UHT – ultra pasteurized milk for things like drinking and eating cereal. UHT milk is great. They kill off all the bacteria in it so it has a longer shelf life, like months rather than days, and you don’t need to refrigerate it until it’s open. Chris said that he’s seen it all over Europe and other places he’s traveled, with the exception of Canada and the US.
Every time Chris and I go home we’re reminded of how well we eat here. Probably much better than we would if we were living back in North America. We don’t have fast food. There are a few places in Port where you can go get a burger, but they aren’t that great so it’s not super appealing. Most of the stuff I cook is from basic ingredients with lots of seasonings. We don’t buy a lot of pre-packaged things. For example, if we want french fries I’ll make them fresh rather that buying a bag to keep in the freezer.
Man, all this talk of food is making me hungry! I think it’s time for a snack. If you have questions I would love to hear them. I’m never quite sure about what people are interested in so suggestions are welcome. I imagine over time you get tired of hearing about Olivia and all her antics, or that it’s hot :)