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Experiencing the City in the Supermarket

Grocery stores are more than just places to buy food. They’re the universal gateway to city life and culture.
July 16, 2019, 2pm PDT | Camille Fink
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Yuya Tamai

You can learn a lot about a city and its residents through its supermarkets, writes Richard Morgan. "Grocery stores have the gritty, hustling authenticity of a bodega or street cart with the propriety and promise of Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. And they offer a tourist-free paradise for people-watching, especially the kind of locals tourists never meet — parents, the elderly, 9-to-5ers, paycheck-to-paycheck poor."

Supermarkets put local food on display—everything from produce to snacks to drinks—and reveal much about people’s everyday lives. Morgan recounts a trip to Havana where his search for a pink ice cream cone that he saw numerous kids eating led to interactions with locals that never would have happened if he stuck to a tourist’s itinerary.

"Go to the hip restaurants, fancy hotels, and cool museums. See the sights. Then also check out Aisle 3. Life may be a movable feast, but, without fail, any trip will be richly rewarded if you stop and smell the groceries," says Morgan.

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Published on Thursday, July 4, 2019 in New York Magazine
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