Welcome to Grocery Diaries, a new series that shows how diverse and individual “healthy eating” really is. So many factors influence the choices we make in the grocery store, including accessibility and affordability, health status, our individual cultural backgrounds, and even what simply makes us (and our taste buds) happy. So we asked people across the country to share their shopping lists with us and then called some of them to ask for more details. Why do you buy what you buy? How much do you spend? Who are you shopping for? What health conditions or nutritional concerns do they think about when choosing, for example, almond milk over cow’s milk or certain flavors or spices or treats? In this issue of Grocery Diaries, we hear from a Washington, DC home cook who connects with her culture through food – and always leaves room on her shopping list for a delightful surprise purchase.
Surname: Emily Jan
occupation: Photo editor
place: Washington, DC
Race / gender: Asian woman
Health conditions / dietary restrictions to be considered: None
Frequency of grocery shopping: Shops for two people once or twice a week
Some people find cooking to be an additional task. It’s an adventure for Emily Jan. “I like to cook something new once a week, so I buy an ingredient that I haven’t used before and experiment with it,” she tells SELF. Emily is now looking for new recipes more often because she works from home. “I really love to cook, and one of the reasons the pandemic is causing me more time to cook something that may take a little longer,” she says. During the week she sticks to dishes she is familiar with (like pasta or tacos). She saves new recipes for the weekend.
Emily is a first generation Taiwanese native, and recreating her mother’s recipes brings back many happy childhood memories. She recently tried a Chinese beet cake that she loved as a child. “I didn’t get to the consistency, but the attempts have been delicious and I can’t wait to share these recipes,” she says.
Every few months, Emily and her husband Adam drive 30 minutes to buy specialties like kimchi (a fermented Korean side dish) at their local H Mart, an Asian supermarket. “We usually come back with about 50 bags,” she says. Aside from that, the couple shop for the Agriculture Program (CSA) in their local supermarket and community. Here are 10 items she picks up on a typical shopping trip.
“My dad took me to a Chinese restaurant and we got Zhajiangmian,” says Emily, who grew up in Michigan, one of her favorite childhood memories. (Zhajiangmian is a Chinese dish made from noodles, soybean paste, and sweet bean sauce.) Emily learned that Chapagetti from Korean food company Nongshim resembles Zhajiangmian after watching the movie Parasite. Now she eats it every few weeks when she wants a simple, happy meal. “Comfort food is a bowl of pasta,” she says.
2.Veggies (such as cabbage: $ 3.94)
As mentioned earlier, Emily buys most of her products through the CSA. However, she complements this by buying her favorite vegetables at the supermarket so that she always has them with her. “For some reason Adam and I really love cabbage – it’s our vegetable. I think people tend to not like it or not think about it, ”she says. “It’s really underrated.” She uses cabbage in so many ways: salads, seed bowls, stir-fries, coleslaw, and soups. Aside from cabbage, the couple eat lots of roasted turnips and cauliflower, which go particularly well with grain bowls, says Emily. “It’s nice to have a mix of warm and then slightly colder vegetables like cucumber or tomatoes.”
3. Ginger: $ 0.25
“I love ginger. I definitely love the heat and it clears your sinuses and is really refreshing, ”says Emily. She often uses ginger in dressings, sauces, stir-fries, and beverages. Sometimes Emily makes a warm drink with grated ginger, honey, and hot water; another time she adds it to the tea – another important point. One of her relatives runs an oolong tea farm in Taiwan, and while she has given most of her tea from his farm to friends, Emily says that drinking it itself helps her bond with her family. Every Sunday she brews loose-leaf oolong tea using a ceramic teapot that she inherited from a family friend. “We relax on the couch and steep, sip and repeat,” she says.
4. Avocados: $ 2.00
Emily buys avocados in different degrees of ripeness so that one is always ready to eat. She uses them in tacos, grain bowls, and even smoothies because they enjoy their texture and taste. “I like the creaminess of it. I like things that have an earthy element, ”she says. Emily is also happier when she eats avocado. “They just feel like a bit of luxury to add to our diet. They are very rich and filling, ”she says. There’s a good reason Emily feels full after eating avocados. They are a good source of monounsaturated fat, so our bodies need time to digest them.
5. Chobani whole milk plain Greek yogurt: $ 5.99
“I really prefer high-fat yogurt because it’s thicker and richer,” says Emily. In general, the couple prefer yogurt instead of sour cream or other sauces. “It’s a little easier and more tangible [than sour cream]. It’s much more versatile and I can use it in both savory and sweet dishes, ”she explains. Emily makes her own dressing with yogurt, lemon juice, and herbs and then adds it to many dishes. “It’s really good on a grain bowl,” she says, and she loves it on salads and in the form of a vegetable dip.