One of the things that i find really fun and entertaining when I travel is to spend time wandering around the local supermarkets.  I always find that the main restaurants in any country are either a) the standard fare that you can find the world over, such as McDonald’s and Italian joints or b) touristy, and geared to the people that are afraid of really trying local cuisine (high-end and low-end).

So, I make it a point to see what the actual inhabitants of any place really eat on a day-today basis.  This is where it can get really interesting.  I find that the supermarket is such a great indicator of what a culture is like.  Is it insular?  In Vienna, I rarely found food items that I did not immediately associated with German / Austrian culture, including sausages, lots of great bread and Muller yoghurt.  In Spain, it was hard to find anything that wasn’t associated with Spanish culture, like pork (including Jamon Iberico) and white bread as far as the eye can see (and surely I will write more about those experiences eventually).

One of the more interesting supermarkets that I have wandered into was in Slovakia.  Bratislava to be exact.  A former Eastern Bloc country, I had visions of a store with only a few aisles, focused mainly on meat and root vegetables (yes, I admit that I have cultural biases and misinformation, despite my best efforts to learn and expand my knowledge base beforehand).  And in large part, I did find those.  I was there in May, and even then I didn’t see a lot of fruit, or really a lot of anything fresh.  That didn’t surprise me very much, and nor did the enormous case of meats and seafood of all kinds.  I tried the herring, some sausage and couple of items that I never did identify and weren’t amazing.  Good, but somewhat unremarkable.

It was in the middle of the supermarket that I was stunned.  Half-way through the store, which was about the size of the average American supermarket, which was already a bit of a surprise, given that Europe (at least in my experience) tends to lean toward smaller footprints for their stores (Asda and Tesco aside), I ran into a literal wall of candy bars.  One entire aisle, the length of a typical US store aisle, but a little taller, was *covered*, completely *filled* with candy bars!  I couldn’t believe it!  Willy Wonka would have been overwhelmed!  The majority were geared toward the “Kit Kat” variety – i.e. wafers covered in chocolate in every iteration that you can imagine with that – but there was every conceivable kind of candy bar that you could possibly think.  To eat five a day, I think that it would still take me months to try every kind.  I chose most wisely, it turns out.  I never learned what each of them was, but I definitely found more than a few with hazelnut / Nutella flavoring, which was a boon, as well as almond and caramel.  Nothing was a disappointment.  Some were definitely better than others, but all were good on some level.  If I lived there permanently, I have a sneaking suspicion that I would have a serious diabetes issue going on.  I think that my jaw nearly dropped when I first encountered that aisle, and I think that part of me still dreams that one day, in some far off and lovely distant future, I will see a wall like that again.  And then I will die happy.

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