Grocery Shopping in the Big Apple

When people hear that we live in New York City, the most common question they ask is “how do you shop for groceries without a car?”

As weird as that may seem, car-free shopping is actually the least quirky thing about foraging for food in Manhattan.

Here are a few of the differences:

We don’t really have “supermarkets.”  At least not the Walmart Supercenter kind. 

You can find all of your basics here.  You just won't find 183 varieties of yogurt.

Yogurt selection at C-Town in Manhattan vs. your typical Walmart Supercenter

Yogurt selection at C-Town in Manhattan vs. your typical Walmart Supercenter

Our carts are smaller than yours.

Small stores + narrow aisles = tiny carts.  Which is fine - because where would you store all of that stuff anyway?

"Fun-sized" carts at C-Town vs. SUV-sized carts at Walmart (note the size of the gallon of milk relative to the cart and aisle!)

"Fun-sized" carts at C-Town vs. SUV-sized carts at Walmart (note the size of the gallon of milk relative to the cart and aisle!)

No such thing as a "quick trip" to the store. 

After living here awhile, waiting 15 to 20 minutes on a checkout line seems perfectly normal.  Bonus: you can catch up on email -  or write a novella - while you wait.

Someone directs you to a register - a job that quite possibly exists only in New York. 

With multiple lines snaking through the store, without this person on the front lines of the grocery battlefield, chaos might ensue.

You buy produce on the street.

Not from some shady character in an alley, but the produce carts that seem to occupy every other corner.  Whether you need bananas for breakfast (5 for $1) or a package of mushrooms for tonight's dinner ($1), they usually have the best prices for basic fruits and veggies.  Buy blueberries here for $3, or pay $6.99 for the exact same thing at the grocery store across the street.

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You shop around.  A lot.

To find the best prices and selection, New Yorkers use a lot of different stores and online delivery services.  Grocery staples at C-Town (Home of the Tiny Carts) or Amazon, produce from street vendors or FreshDirect, meat from the pork store, cereal from Trader Joe's, prepared foods from Fairway or Whole Foods.  Need pickles and olives?  Go to the Pickles & Olives Store (yes, it exists). 

They deliver.

If you buy more than you can carry home - a rare occurrence for me, since most New York City kitchens don’t have room to store lots of stuff - everyone delivers.  Who needs that car, anyway?