Tuesday, August 12, 2008

That Sandwich Costs How Much?!

Everything in the Virgin Islands is expensive. I mean ridiculously expensive prices comparable to NYC or London, except with more limited options where food is concerned. There are plenty of fine dining restaurants, which aren’t really my thing, and obviously no shortage of seafood, which also really isn’t my thing. Either way, I couldn’t afford to eat at many of those places. To save money we're cooking (mainly Goya beans and rice), and when you’re working without a spice rack, you find yourself limited to a lot of processed foods. Also, fresh produce other than mangos and plantains isn’t easy to find around here. That means my sodium intake is off the charts. I think I'm consuming 5000% of my daily sodium allowance in two meals—if I retain any more water, I’m fairly certain I’ll end up like Violette Beauregard, sans blueberry.

However, all this eating in has been a good excuse for hitting up every grocer we can find. I love grocery stores, especially when I’m traveling. Those large, well lit markets can be comforting when you’re far away from home, and the smaller local stores are fun to explore. If you’re not planning on staying in one of those fancy all inclusive resorts, or find yourself visiting for an extended period of time, I recommend renting a place with a kitchen to save yourself some cash for extra booze. Unless you’re one of those people with disposable income, in which case I say, whatever. For the rest of us who feel kind of broke, here’s where you can start shopping.

Grocers in St. Thomas, USVI:

Pueblo - there are two locations on St. Thomas, and I usually go to the one by the airport, because it’s near both the laundromat and the KFC. They have decent produce and meat and it’s a lot more interesting to wander through than Food Plaza. You can refill your water jugs there too.

Mandahl Market - located on Mandahl Rd. near Magens Bay, this is the perfect place to grab stuff for a picnic. They have prepared food and beer, and plenty of snacks. One of my favorite places on the island, but don’t do your serious shopping here, they’re expensive.

Food Plaza - big, unimpressive grocery store with sad produce, poor meat selection, but decent for staple goods and frozen stuff.

Marina Market - another good picnic food place, located in Red Hook near the ferry docks. They have a deli and prepared foods counter, a large wine selection. Nice cheeses and produce that will clean out your wallet, but at least they’re available.

Cost-U-Less -I hope you’re still reading because I saved the best for last. I just discovered this place yesterday, even though we pass by almost everyday. From the outside it looks like one of those membership warehouses, but it’s open to the public. They have Kirkland brand items so I assume that they’re owned by Costco. If you need to do some serious shopping, go here—I wish I had found Cost-U-Less earlier. This is the only place I have been able to find edible lettuce on the island, and who knew I would get so excited about that. They have tons of fresh produce and meat for a reasonable price at least by island standards (I have never seen so much fresh ginger in one place.) Only about 60% of what they sell is packaged in bulk, so you can pick up fresh veggies, pasta sauce, deli meats and cheese and not worry about wasting anything. On the drive home, spend some time marveling at how much money you spent at all those other stores. Oh and they have plenty of beer, liquor and wine. You’ll find that while most alcohol is cheap here, especially the local stuff, wine is quite pricey. They seem to have the best selection, for the best prices I’ve seen. They also have a fill-up station for your drinking water.

Don’t Bother:

Four Seasons - they lure you in with promises of fresh produce, but instead offer overpriced, pitiful fruits and veggies. I would only go here if you had some money burning a hole in your pocket and needed to spend it on some fancy cookies or balsamic vinegar.

Save a few bucks by refilling your gallon water jugs at the store instead of buying new ones each time. Also cuts down on waste, which is important down here.

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