Then and now

12:59 PM

As I mentioned in my previous post, a grocery post about what was there in the beginning and what is there today is in order.
In fact I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time now since I have the privilege of now living in the same area I lived in for 2 months in 2004 and haven’t seen since moving back there last August. 8 years changes a lot in the landscape, but the two and only big supermarkets that existed back then still exist today, with the only big change that they sell far more variety than they did back then, and as a result are a bit more crammed and difficult to navigate.
Back in 2003 when I first arrived in Bangalore, I had absolutely no idea what was available as food goes, and because I didn’t know the prices either I preferred shopping at self serves supermarkets to familiarise myself with things, it didn’t take me a lot of time to figure out that the only way to survive back then was to know how to cook lentils and pulses, because it was pretty much the only thing widely available along with seasonal vegetables, vegetables which fortunately were familiar looking enough.
In the dairy department it was plain dahi, sliced cheese, block of processed cheese (that looked and felt like rubber), milk and butter. Continental food stuff inevitably meant instant soups and pasta and that was about it, pasta sauce was imported and ridiculously costly, and the only cheap brand of pasta was Bambino an Indian brand that tend to turn into mush in the pan very fast, making Maggi noodle the ruler of the starch carb comfort. Maggi was also the only brand along with wai wai noodles which I distinctly remember tasted awful. The only non sugar added juice was from Tropicana, I thought at 60 rupees they were costly, but the local brand “Real” that had sugar in it didn’t even cost any less, Frooti the mango pulp drink was there and not too bad, not to mention quite a steal compared to the juice cartons, and still contained something remotely natural, all the other non water drink were courtesy of PepsiCo which was more popular than those from the coca cola company back then, and since the only soft drink I like is diet coke, I gave them a miss. My biggest disappointment chocolate set aside was bread, I don’t mind sliced bread really, but the one available in Bangalore was dry, and as I found out as pretty much normal for South India, sweet, which when you top them with salted butter and jam makes it plainly horrible. Tomato sauce always meant ketchup, and it took me a lot of time to figure out that to make a dish calling for real tomato sauce you need to ask for tomato puree, which I’m not even sure existed in the beginning though I admit I have no idea because the chances of me just not knowing where to look where big enough.
While I had no issue with vegetables, I was very disappointed with fruits, apples were costly because they were imported, when in season the Kashmiri apples that made it down South were bruised beyond edibility in other form than apple sauce, mangoes were awesome but the season was short (still is), watermelon and papaya aren’t my favourites, which pretty much left banana as the only year round fruit, and you get tired of it. I don’t mind seasonal fruits but back then there wasn’t a big market for these, I had friends telling me that fruits were a party gift thing and that people didn’t really considered them as much as a daily staple as in the West which explained a lot.

Back in the days there was also a budget factor to take into consideration, DH and I didn’t have a large income to blow on anything but basic food stuff, and in fact the short stint in Mumbai in 2004 exposed me to imported products, I was relieved to see that there were a few things more than in Bangalore, but since it was insanely overpriced, they were just leaving me frustrated, we were after all considering chicken and cashew nut a luxury in these days. Our staple food for 2 years consisted of rice, dal, and Indian style veggies and of course chapatti, while DH grew on that diet and didn’t mind as much as I did, I needed variety, and I don’t mean continental costly thing, just different styles, I worked hard to find cheap ingredients and substitute to recreate some old time favourites, and Chinese dish that were still easier to pull. See I love to cook, always have, and I can cook various cuisine, all i wanted back then was to stop having a liquid soft stuff on my plate all the time. Even DH grew tired of it, so we used to go out to eat non-veg stuff, in places on the cheap side but still going out.

Over the years fortunately there was much to rejoice, fruit dahi was one of these, more chicken stuff as well, better condiments to season vegetables and soya chunks as well, and tofu, and more vegetables, alfalfa sprouts, cheese spread delivering me from the evil slices, then Amul came with their Gouda cheese and I was in bliss land (though the 2003 me might have not bought it if available as it was costly), and finally FRUITS, with health specialist recommending people to boost their fibre and vitamin intake by consuming at least 5 serving of fruits and vegetable a day came a whole new market of seasonal fresh fruit, trust me I had no idea India was even producing Strawberries and Peaches in the beginning, but they do and they are yummy, musk melon became more available too, so did grapes, and lychees. not only that a lot of them when in season cost less than apples…BLISS Even small fruit shops had them.
Lettuce also became something worth sinking teeth in apparently, in Switzerland a side salad of just green stuff in vinaigrette is an institution, not so much in India, and finding it in a store one day was almost like finding the holy grail I kid you not!

In 2007 Hypermarkets started making their appearance in Bangalore, namely star bazaar and Spar, though I think Total also came, giving the undisputed mass retail giant “Big Bazaar” some concurrence, with it, more choice, more products, some imported but still cheaper than those I first got to glimpse in Mumbai my first time, targeting a more and more world food savvy segment of the population. Working abroad is something all Indians want to do or try at one point in their life, the IT industry gave then the opportunity, and with exposure to another world, comes certain culinary discoveries, and things that they will want to replicate back home, the middle class urban Indian is more adventurous with food now than it was a nearly a decade ago, proof being the cookery TV shows and magazines that are now available.

Back in 2003, I think the only magazine that bothered giving recipes was Woman’s era, sticking to the Indian repertoire, and Femina expending into unchartered territory of exotic cuisines, which incidentally were nearly impossible to produce back home due to to the lack of ingredient available, I tried a few, and each time they were very frustrating to replicate and more often than not I had to nix about half the ingredients from the recipe due to the lack of proper substitutes.
Today I can do most of the recipes in the magazine BBC Good Food India even if not going for overpriced gourmet stores items that too without much hassle, again granted I have a bigger budget to allocate to food, there is still far more available locally than there ever was before and if you know your cooking basics, you know how to substitute too.

The supermarket I got to discover in 2004 in Mumbai as I said still exist, and it sells so much more stuff it used to, so much that actually the aisles are narrower as they had to add some which reduce the cart navigation space and makes it a big more irritating to roam through especially on crowded weekends, but going there is no longer as frustrating as it was, as lot of imported brands have a local equivalent, in fact the store is so well supplied that the shopping carts which are for some still the same old tiny ones there was in 2004 are now too small to contain a week worth of groceries for most people, and they can’t really upgrade to something larger in the cart department because they would otherwise not pass through the aisles in the store.

To newly arrived expats today’s grocery store experience is much friendlier and nicer than it was for me in 2003, I keep thinking that maybe I could have spared myself a few meltdowns if what is now was so then.


  1. Hello,
    This the best article I have never seen before…........
    Morocco vacation

  2. great one...Its true for small towns too..there were hardly any supermarkets 5 yrs back.

  3. I can only imagine what it must be like in small cities.


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