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Day 9: So long, Waitrose.

Despite developing a case of mild food anxiety, I made it through the first week of my challenge. I don’t know if some of you would constitute this as cheating, but we survived by blagging a few dinners from our flatmate, Gideon. We then carried ourselves through the weekend by receiving invitations to friends’ tables -both Saturday and Sunday evening. Realising that I might not be so lucky this coming week, I decided it was finally time to open my wallet (that everyone thinks is a pencil case) and pull out some cash.
When I was a kid, shopping for groceries was a carefully planned event. My mom would troll the aisles with her list in hand, methodically ticking off each item and carefully noting its price. Towards the end, we’d always stop in a deserted aisle so she could check through her coupon book and calculate the total. Before we’d head to the checkout, I was allowed to pick out a package of Entenmmen’s donuts which we’d later eat while watching episodes of Dallas. The donut ritual went by the way side, but one thing has always remained the same. My mom is still a shrewd shopper. She hunts down every deal, every bargain to be had. She inherited this from my grandmother who will walk 30 miles in a snowstorm just to buy milk that’s selling for $1.00 a gallon. Maybe I was distracted by the donuts, since I’ve been unsuccessful in carrying this torch. But as I set out on my evening journey for supermarket deals, I couldn’t help but feel a bit inspired.
This week, I decided to leave Tesco and Sainsbury’s off the list. I never feel they offer that much more savings to begin with, and I’d rather explore the locals. When I lived in New York, I would buy alot of my produce in Chinatown as the deals there cannot be beat. Sadly, London’s Chinatown is a small tourist trap, and I have yet to find a supermarket that’s not overpriced. People tell me there are better deals to be found further afoot, but it wasn’t something I was prepared to do on an evening after work. I decided to visit two Asian supermarkets in our neighbourhood –Longdan Express on Hackney Road and Taj Stores on Brick Lane.
I went to Longdan first, and with a budget of just £10, was immediately overwhelmed. Not because of prices, but because of the endless options. Ironically, the store lacked a good selection of fresh veg which is what I was after the most. Rethinking my strategy, I crossed off what I could find, but got easily distracted by other products. There were almost too many choices. I must have looked like a crazy as I paced up and down the aisles. I reminded myself that whatever I purchased had to be versatile. I couldn’t blow £2 on thinly shredded pork skins as nice as they may be. So I played it cool and kept my options open for Taj. For £3.33, I settled on some rice noodles, onions, ginger, spring onions, and a large package of lemongrass.
(above: Longdan Express, below: Taj Stores)
Taj proved to be better on the veg, but that alone was equally overwhelming. There were some beautiful greens but without knowing exactly what to do with them or how they would taste, I got cold feet. How could I spend £1 on something that wasn’t a sure thing? Feeling very boring, I walked out with £2.07 worth of potatoes, carrots, chillies, and a shallot.
Was it worth it? Well, it took me two hours in total -walking from my office to each shop, and then making my way home. Waitrose is loads faster, but then again you are paying for the convenience which is a luxury I do not have.
For £5.37, I got what I felt was a pretty good deal. I’ll admit I played it very safe, but for a first run, I’m not too upset. I’ve still got £4.60 to spend which is much more than I would have ever imagined. That could be enough for a good bit of beef. Or maybe even some chorizo?
Unfortunately, the donuts will have to wait.


  1. The London Foodie

    Hi Jen,

    I love Longden on Hackney Rd, everytime I go there I spend hours walking along every aisle, I just love looking at their products and packaging. I think they excellent for asian herbs but a bit pricey for all japanese ingredients. Funnily enough, The Japanese Centre in Piccadilly is cheaper than they are and they always have some good offers too which smaller Japanese grocers could not afford.

    I haven't been to Taj but will check them out, thanks.

    I loved Dallas, what was your favourite character? Mine was Sue Ellen, bless her!

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  2. Jen

    We have been to Japan Centre to eat, but not to shop. I will definitely take a closer look this time. Tom and I are planning a weekend of bargain hunting. How romantic, huh?

    Favourite Dallas character tough to call. Was always a big J.R. fan, but Sue Ellen was by far the best out of the girls. Whatever happened to Linda Gray?

  3. Tess

    This challenge is so inspiring to me, especially being unemployed now & all. The prices here in San Francisco boggle the mind a little- even at the cheapier little market, the cauliflower & cilantro(coriander) I bought last night was $5. An onion is often over $1, as are lemons, & cream for coffee is $3-5.

    I think it's time for me to start hiking down to the little Thai grocery on Valencia, here prices are LOW & the beautiful proprietress with the sparkly nails calls you "my darling".

  4. Jen

    Tess -girl, you don't wanna talk about how hard this challenge was. Thankfully, London's restaurants are more expensive than eating at home otherwise I might have just quit cooking and gone the take away route.

    It actually screwed with me mentally, as I had to look at food from a financial and practical stand point. Part of the pleasure I get with food is just sitting down and creating, and when you are restricted, you lose some of the joy. But I guess that's why I did the experiment to begin with, now wasn't it?

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