Choosing chilis

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January 1, 2019
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I love buying groceries.  I love being in any kind of food store or supermarket.  In fact, when I visit foreign countries, visiting supermarkets is one of my favorite activities, even if the differences are only subtle (because I’m including Canada).

I also love my local supermarkets and small grocers.  I live off of a busy street in the Bronx in a diverse community, so the food stores cater to many tastes.

My local Key Food is stocked with plantains and yuca.

And there are other nearby stores that I also love, for different reasons: the Mexican grocery, which looks like any other small grocery deli except it’s not.  Recently, my boyfriend Sathya and I made Three Cup Chicken in our new Instant Pot.  It’s a garlicky, gingery spicy tasty dish that required “3 dried Chinese chili.”  Where to get this in our un-Chinese neighborhood?

I figured we could get at least a suitable red chili at the Mexican grocery.  I didn’t know that I’d find eight different types of red chilis, all beautiful– some large and wrinkled and almost black, others tiny and red, paper-like.  We picked the perfect ones, the small, red, papery-ones.

Finally, there is the Lydig Pick and Pack, the cheap vegetable and fruit store that always has long lines on the weekends and full of families speaking different languages, inspecting vegetables.  You need to inspect some things (the cauliflower) but there are some finds, like shiitake mushrooms at a cheap price, and always fresh.

It’s not just the sight and smell and feel of the groceries, but the interactions with people.  I love it when my students are cashiers at the Key Food and trying to hide that they’re happy to see me.  I love telling them that I remember being a cashier (at my local IGA in 12th grade) and that I still remember bananas are 4011.  I love the shy young man at the Mexican grocery, and the chatty, highly efficient women at Pick and Pack.

And yet, and yet: I’ve recently started using Instacart, an online delivery service where one can order food from a nearby grocery store and have it delivered directly to your house.  Once you place your order, Instacart then has a person deliver it to your house.

I don’t use Instacart for any of the stores I just mentioned– they don’t have it– but I use it to order food from Fairway, which has a lot of items that aren’t available in my local stores, and which is about a 15 or 20-minute drive from my house.  And, my car is a 15-minute walk from my house.  So . . .

I love having the food delivered right to my door.  It’s so tempting to make that my new lifestyle.  And yet I would grieve to lose those interactions of the cashiers, the bustle of the families arguing about which apples to buy, the liveliness of just being around other people.  Especially since I know these interactions may be what could lead to a longer life.

So I’m happy to live a hybrid sort of life: give myself permission to have Instacart delivered on a lazy Sunday, but also, get out there and interact, be with people for the sake of it.

Photo credit: Kamakshi Sachidanandam, Creative Commons License