Retail Therapy at the Colonia
One of the wonders of ex-pat living is discovering that certain activities and/or habits in which you would most likely never engage in your place of origin become common features of your new life abroad. Take for example, my strong affection for the Colonia, a grocery store chain here in Nicaragua. For many years, while I was living in Brooklyn and NYC, I had the pleasure of shopping at farmer’s markets, smaller family-owned grocery stores, and natural food stores. Unlike the rest of the US, there are not many big grocery store chains in NYC with the exception of Whole Foods. Whenever I was outside of NYC, the grocery stores generally frightened me in the US – they were huge and I found the amount of food and sheer size of the building to be completely overwhelming. Thus, the pleasure I derive from the Colonia is somewhat puzzling but nonetheless comforting. It’s not nearly as big as US grocery stores nor as imposing but generally looks the same just with different stuff and in Spanish.
The Colonia is the only chain of grocery stores that it is owned by Nicaraguans (the others are almost all owned by Walmart, unsurprisingly, since they have been on a mission to buy up all the supermarket chains in Latin America) and it is probably the most up-scale of the three main grocery store chains in Nicaragua. While Pali provides a no-frills, warehouse-like, mini-Sam’s Club type experience, La Colonia is refreshingly bright, pleasant, and pretty. And they have ice cream and generally play really good music. La Union falls somewhere in between but still just isn’t as lovely as the Colonia, though the people who work there are usually very gracious. I generally go the Colonia here in Granada, though whenever I am at Metrocentro in Managua, I find myself being lured in to the one there as well. The promise of whole wheat spaghetti and the possibility of finding the tiny Italian wafer cookies I love (Quadratini) does it for me every time. When I’m not in MGA, I tend to go to the one here in Granada in the mornings after walking Moses (my dog), and I often find myself there the morning after a big night out seeking imported comfort foods, like Pringles, or ingredients to make nachos or quesadillas.
Upon entering, I feel instantly pleased and generally happy to take advantage of the wide diversity of things you can find there in comparison to other food stores in Nicaragua. Perhaps most importantly, the cheese section is enormous and has the biggest variety of any other grocery store chain in Nicaragua – and there is goat cheese made in Nicaragua by this French guy (super good). In their produce section, some days you can find strawberries or kiwi (while I am a strong advocate and afficionado of local food, sometimes it is awesome to eat strawberries and kiwi). They basically have all the standard stuff you would find in any Northern grocery store plus a host of other random stuff, including books, kitchen stuff, housewares, and other surprise items.
This brings me to the second reason I really enjoy the experience of the Colonia – the sheer joy of never knowing what you will find there. Unlike in the US, where there are endless brands and items and the whole experience of shopping can be agonizing simply because of all of the choice, here in Nicaragua there are fewer brands and inconsistent availablity. Sure, all the staples don’t really change but sometimes you can really find some food or item that is seriously great and gets bought up by all super fast. For example, whole wheat flour. I once was behind this woman in line (gringa) who bought like 10 5-lb bags, which might seem odd, but here we all know that it’s not always available and thus you buy it when they have it. Frozen bagels are a good score as is pita bread. They have a foreign/gourmet foods section where you can sometimes get Silk soymilk and Carr’s water crackers, all of which are quite expensive but worth a little extra every now and again. And sometimes, you get free stuff via promotions. One time I bought a big bag of dog food for Moses and I got a free, giant yellow Pedigree umbrella. They even took a picture of the woman giving it to me. It was a rather odd experience.
Anyway, this morning Libby and I went to the Colonia. As always, it was a happy time. Libby had to shop for wedding gifts for several friends who are getting married – for them we found these great woven place mats, a tostonero capable of flattening three fried plantains at one time, a variety box of Mombotombo chocolates, and a card, which took us forever to find in the very unorganized card section. At the end of the shopping experience, Libby ended up with, among other things, the wedding gifts, a 2L bottle of extra virgin olive oil (great deal and a rare bulk buy), and her favorite Chiky’s cookies. I had a wonderful assortment of plenty of stuff – scented candles, a wooden rolling pin, goat cheese, Mombotombo “tropical storm” chocolate bar (it has peanuts, coconut, banana, and sesame seed…sounds like a flavor explosion), handmade paper boxes for little gifts, some tilapia for Moses, strawberries, a bottle of Lambrusco, rainbow sprinkles, and cheddar cheese for the cauliflower cheese pie I’m making in a little while. It was as awesome and wonderful as always.