For those of you who’ve never been to the Philippines, it might seem odd for me to blog about a grocery store but, as someone who likes all things food, I also like to get a picture of what all things food in other countries are like, even something as mundane as the grocery store.
Perhaps your mental picture of the Philippines only includes roadside fruit stands and crude structures selling street food or small “sari-sari” stores that are like little condensed, limited 7-11s where you can buy rice, canned goods, and soap plus the odd pack of toothpaste and bananas.
If so, then welcome to Pure Gold grocery store. The one we went to was housed in a large, two-story building with a covered parking garage on the first floor and a “lobby” where you enter past the security guard (who gives a cursory glance through your purse like they do at Disneyland) and take the “walkalator” up to the second floor which is the main floor of the grocery store. A walkalator is just like an escalator but without the steps or a people mover such as the ones at an airport except it slants upwards instead of being horizontal. Perfect for anyone in a wheelchair.
Pure Gold is more than a grocery store. It’s probably more like a variety store such as a Woolworth’s in its American heyday. It’s a combination food court, separate pharmacy counter, has a Red Ribbon Bakery stand, and besides groceries, sells appliances and housewares.
I poked around the different aisles, interested in seeing the wares on offer. As is typical in the Philippines, there are a lot of familiar American products available: Spam, Cheetos, Oreos, Betty Crocker cake mixes, Hershey candy bars and so on. As is also typical, the American-born products are more expensive while the local brands are cheaper. I did some quick comparison pricing and a can of Spam was in the $3-$4 range, not unlike full price in the States, depending on where you buy it and definitely more expensive than when I buy it on sale in bulk at Costco. But that’s actually not a fair comparison because many Filipino jobs don’t pay as much as even the US minimum wage. What a $10 an hour worker would earn at In N Out might be what a worker in the Philippines would make in a day. If they’re lucky. So for them to buy a can of Spam could conceivably eat up a day’s wages. 1 can. Fortunately there are cheaper food options for people in the Philippines but that might give you an idea of why a can of Spam might be considered a luxury or a treat in some families. Everything’s relative. And speaking of Spam, I was actually fascinated to discover it came in different flavors. I’m not a big Spam eater myself but even I was intrigued by Spam Tocino. I love tocino, a marinated Filipino pork dish. I didn’t buy it then but afterwards, I asked my mom to bring back a can so I could try it.
I also had a moment of nostalgia when I saw the end cap display of Milo. Milo is the local chocolate powder drink mix. My grandmother used to have a cup of Milo every day and my earliest memories were of her drinking it. She loved Milo.
Checking out is similar to any American grocery store. The main difference is they still have baggers who bag your purchases. Freezer items are rung up and placed together in the same bag and box so they can remain chilled together for longer until you can get them into the freezer at home, very important in a tropical country. All purchases are boxed in cardboard boxes, similar to Costco who re-uses the shipping boxes their foodstuffs came in, and tied with strong “straw” twine. When you leave the grocery store, you show your receipt to the guard on your way out, also a la Costco albeit there isn’t a Costco in the country.
It was a fun experience to shop in the local grocery store and actually something I try to do no matter which country I visit. You can always find local foodstuffs to try that you can’t get at home. My nieces got the spicy shrimp chips and I bought Nagaraya cracker peanuts, a favorite from childhood. I’m sure both are available in Asian grocery stores in the US (and probably the Spam Tocino too) but there’s something more special about buying it truly local.