Hidden Gems :: Alternatives to the Big 5 Grocery Shopping Experience

Hidden Gems:: Alternatives to the Big 5 Grocery Shopping Experience | Houston Moms Blog

I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, a first world setting in a third world country. One wanted for nothing {besides a stable postal service and Amazon, of course}. The city is a mecca for design, food, wine, and in my case, fantastic thrift shops. I would find myself wasting all my lunch hours elbow deep in old clothes and books, looking for treasures. There was something to be said for the small, eclectic shops. I celebrated the win when I found a diamond in the rough. The same could be said for the grocery shop.

The Move from Chic to {what I expected to be} Weak

In 2009, we left our beautiful country for the shores of Lagos, Nigeria:: a third world setting in a third world country. Nope, no thrift shops, Amazon, a stable postal service, or any kind of shopping like I was used to. My love for shopping was put to the test, and boy Lagos did not disappoint, but she sure made me work for it. There was one mall with TWO shops, and only one that supplied food. A weekly delivery of yogurt would arrive, a group text would be sent out, and we would all make a mad dash before the stock was depleted before our very eyes. Yogurt never tasted so good. If I saw something I liked, I bought it all, as I might never see it again. I think I had some items in my grocery cupboard for 6 years that I never got to finish before throwing out. I became a hoarder overnight.

Three additional stores in town supplied imported products where I could find fresh fruits and such. On Wednesday, when the “delivery” arrived with fresh stock, I sat waiting at the door, frantic, just to be the first in. If I waited, I had to elbow my way aggressively to get that last fresh lettuce. All the creature comforts and the convenience of a one stop shopping experience were over. Planning a dinner party was a week long project, one of planning, preparation, searching stores, visiting the local markets, and when in dire need, shopping in my friend’s pantry. The market was a bustling pot of soul, smell, and the rare gem; you just had to be open to it.

What I learned through my experience was nothing tastes sweeter than that perfect peach that I had searched for and so desperately needed for my planned dish. There was a sense of accomplishment in my shopping experience. I would pat myself on the back and sip champagne for a job well done. The experience of not getting what I wanted, when I wanted it, made me really think about appreciation. The appreciation for something I really need, and food I dream of and haven’t tasted in months, and then suddenly find. I had an appreciation for the small corner store where the owner knew my name, and allowed me the experience of tasting food from all over the world. I appreciated everything I ate. 

The Abundance of the Big Five.

After 6 flavorful years in Nigeria, we made our away across the seas and moved to Katy, Texas, where everything is bigger and bolder. It is what makes Texas beautiful. A first world setting in a first world country. Even the highways are on steroids. There is a stable postal service and Amazon, delivering anything and everything right to my front door! Say no more, say no more. Abundance. On day two of said arrival, we met Target. One of the BIG FIVE. Others in the Big Five are HEB, Kroger, Walmart and Whole Foods….according to me, of course) First, we were greeted with a trolley that sat two kids in actual seats. These seats were not for babies, I might add, but for BIG kids {mind blown}. It was like driving a 18 wheeler. I had found the mecca of the shopping experience, and the destroyer of any savings plan.

I see all you moms nodding your heads here, because you know what I am talking about. These stores have all you can dream of under one roof; a one stop shop. The yogurt aisle alone gave me hives. Every possible yogurt you could imagine- skinny, no fat, full fat, half fat. It took half the shopping time just choosing one. It was abundance that I had never experienced before. I now want for nothing. Four years later, I am a proficient Big 5 Shopper. I know what I like, and where to go, but I still wanted the diamond in the rough, to find that hidden gem. I yearned for the adventure of the simple shop. I wanted the treasure trove of the unusual, and the taste of that sweet, sweet peach.

So I went out and found it. 

Small Stores that Give Big.

If you are keen for a different experience, for a chance to tantalize your palate with something different, I will share some spots that could transform your pantry.  

Fiesta has a large selection of British foods. Specs has some delectable sausage and bacon in their freezer section.

For additional British ware visit British Isles in the Rice area in Houston. British Depot in Magnolia has a large range, and don’t forget to pop next door to enjoy a delicious serving of real British fish and chips. Try Phoenicia for some international items, IKEA for Swedish food, and Norwegian Seamens Church in Pasadena for the Scandinavian palate.   

Ranch 99 has a great selection of international foods, and beautiful fresh fish. KT Indian Grocers have many spices that one would struggle to find elsewhere. 

My go to favorite stores are World Market to buy my all time to-die-for Mrs. Ball’s Chutney. You have not lived until you have had a melted cheese with chutney, what we so fondly call a “braaibrootjie” in South Africa. I frequent Trader Joe’s for my favorite rosé wine {I would have to kill you if I shared the name, and put myself 6ft under if they run out}….A hint though- it’s only $5.99. Bargain baby, bargain. Trader Joe’s is a go-to for anything salad or vegan; there’s deliciousness on every aisle. We all need some Trader Joe’s in our lives. Let us not forget the corner go get ’em Aldi – that little gem has the best German chocolate and cookies. There is even an aisle that has imported items of every kind..kitchen aids, teddy bears for $0.99, and handbags, all for a fraction of the cost – and product changes weekly! Prepare yourself to go in for milk and to leave with a dog bed, glassware and a potted orchid. True story…

Small time shopping does not always refer to food either. If you want a happy place to just smell the roses, try The Enchanted Garden in Rosenberg. It is a beautiful setting to plan your spring garden, has a fat tabby cat that sleeps at the till, and let us not forget the to-die-for honey.

Houston mamas:: get out there. Find those hidden gems. We all love our Big Five, but maybe, just maybe, you might find a gem that transforms your pantry experience and helps out a local business.

Hidden Gems:: Alternatives to the Big 5 Grocery Shopping Experience | Houston Moms Blog

If you have a special spot that you frequent please share it with us. We would love to hear from you.


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Karen is a full figured and full of life kind of girl. She commands a room even when she feels awkward and insecure. She’s well traveled, even for a small town pig farmer’s daughter. Karen is intolerant of “blinker mentality” and a fierce fighter for the underdog. A lover of good food, good people and good wine, even if it comes in a box, she can tell one helluva story. She graduated from the school of life, and shows a trend of learning the hard way. Cape Town South Africa, her stomping ground, holds an infinity of “you did what?” kind of stories. With a background in office interior design and sales, Karen loves anything pretty with a good clean line. She is a sucker for clothes and a good lipstick. Married to the man of her dreams, they immediately started their life together on the shores of Lagos, Nigeria. This is where she found the chutzpah of what makes her heart swell, her brow sweat, and her mind tick. It took this crazy, busy and vibrant city for Karen to come into her own. Feet solidly in the sands of African soil made her realize the depths of her soul and what she brings to any conversation. True grit. It was in these six beautiful years that she had her two gorgeous, feisty and strong daughters. She refers to them lovingly as IT 1 and IT 2. IT 1 and IT 2 are 18 months apart and do not get along. It’s a daily grind to get them to be cordial without a push or a shove. Certainly “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” takes on a whole new meaning. Houston welcomed this unique African family into their arms and hugged them tightly. It has been a safety never experienced before and has offered her a world of testing the waters to growing personal self, pushing boundaries and overcoming her fears. The writing platform is part of her creative Piscean self, and through this, she will hopefully fill your home with stories enough to spark a conversation, a different perspective and a laugh.

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