The first day I arrived in Santiago, my host mom took me to Jumbo—an enormous supermarket like Walmart in the U.S. My host mom told me that her past host students loved shopping at Jumbo, and I could see why as it reminded me of huge U.S. supermarket chains. Similar to Walmart’s dominance as a staple of U.S. consumerism, Jumbo sold practically everything: bed comforters, a huge selection of wine, clothing, children’s toys, shampoo, produce, and a large assortment of snacks. Most importantly in my case, it sold la pasta de maní (peanut butter) and popular American snacks like Cheetos and Lays chips. Peanut butter has been an integral part of my American diet ever since I started eating PB & J sandwiches for lunch in kindergarten, but PB & J is rarely seen in Chilean school cafeterias. In Chile, lunch is the biggest and considered to be the most important meal of the day, so a skimpy sandwich for lunch would be appalling. Chileans take their one-hour lunch break quite seriously as they stop working and enjoy their food for the entire hour. Meanwhile, many Americans take a quick break to scarf down a simple sandwich just to replenish their energy and continue working. Never would a Chilean multitask by eating lunch at their computer to finish up a work assignment. Also, Chileans tend to eat lunch much later compared to Americans–usually, lunch starts around 2 p.m. but can even be as late as 4 p.m.
Anyways, despite the lack of PB & J sandwiches in Chilean children’s lunch boxes, I was not ready to give up peanut butter in Chile just yet. Luckily, I found that other large grocery store chains such as Líder also sold peanut butter. I was surprised to learn that Líder was owned by the U.S. Walmart corporation; I had traveled halfway across the world to find out that Walmart managed to take over the grocery store industry in Chile as well. Just as Walmart is in almost every city and town in the U.S., Líder popped up on most major streets in Chile. Líder even has the same logo as Walmart—six yellow dashes in a circle next to the store’s name in blue.
Although I was disappointed that Walmart’s presence in Chile meant that the grocery stores felt anything but foreign, I found that Chile had a particularly distinct way of selling fruits and vegetables. Unlike the U.S., most Chileans do not buy their fruits and vegetables at grocery stores. Instead, there are ferias, which are large street markets with vendors selling fruits and veggies of the same if not better quality than supermarkets, but at a much lower price. Most Chileans save their fruit and vegetable shopping for Saturdays when the majority of ferias open. During the week if you are looking for lower-priced fruits and vegetables there are solo street vendors or small window shops solely dedicated to selling fresh fruits and vegetables. Exploring different vendors and ferias across Santiago has been quite fun to figure out the best-priced and best-tasting frutilla (strawberries) and palta (avocadoes).
My next grocery store adventure is to verify the rumors about a Costco in Chile. I’ve heard talk about a wholesale grocery store selling American snacks in huge quantities.
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Hi! I'm Mira and I'm a Chemistry major at Grinnell College! love taking my dog on long walks and binging a good book. When traveling, I love going on runs to explore new places.