Friday, January 27, 2012

Adventures in Grocery Shopping: A Guided Tour


When I blogged about returning to Montreal, I told you that I would write not only about what I am cooking, but also about what where I shop for food, what restaurants I go to, and what kind of food events I attend. I want to start doing that today by telling you about the little grocery store where I buy at least half of my food: Rocky Montana. Now, if you are a Montrealer who lives, or who has ever lived, in NDG, you’ve probably heard of Rocky Montana. I won’t make any assumptions as to what your opinion on the establishment is, but even if it isn’t your favourite place to shop, you would probably at least admit that it is an interesting, albeit strange, store. The reaction I get when I tell people where my new apartment is located is often: “Isn’t that right around the corner from Rocky Montana? I love that place!”
I’m kind of starting to love it too. It’s definitely the sort of place that grows on you, and I’ll admit, I was not all that enchanted by the store the first time I went to it. It’s tiny and crowded and a far cry from the shiny, wide, well-lit aisles of a typical chain supermarket. If you go there with a specific list, it is unlikely that you’ll find everything on it, even the items that you would expect every grocery store to have. What you will find, though, are spices, sauces, and a variety of other products that you can never find anywhere else, and for a fraction of the price that fancy speciality stores charge.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Rocky Montana is the type of place that suburbanites who are used to driving to the store and getting all of their groceries in one spot would not like very much. For city folks who walk, bus, or metro to get their groceries, and often shop at several different, smaller places, RM is a favourite go-to.

So, let me take you on a tour of this fine establishment. The first thing you need to know, before you’ve even entered the store, is which door you must go through, because the answer is not obvious. When you walk up to the two doors under the sign, enter through the door on the left, not the one on the right, as you would normally do. Why the owners of the establishment decided that the doors should be reversed, I have no idea, but just accept it and move on.
Once you’re through said door, you’ll be greeted by the sounds of Indian music and the sight of the register station directly in front of you. To your left are jam-packed shelves of baking staples, almond and soy milk, and organic broths. To your right are shopping baskets and carts. Don’t take a cart. There are few places in the store where a shopping cart actually fits and you will regret it. Instead, opt for a basket. If you’re planning on buying more than what fits in the basket, don’t. Just come back tomorrow and get whatever else you need. Walk through the shelves of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits (or grab a few along the way—the prices are unbeatable), and hang a right at the fruit stand. You need to pass this stand to get to the main fruit and vegetable section, which is no problem if isn’t someone standing there perusing (or restocking—there’s always someone restocking) the fruits on display. If there is, you’ll need to squeeze past this person, and you’ll probably end up bumping him or her with your basket, or stepping on his or her toes. Just say a polite, “Excusez-moi,” and carry on. You may want to pause for a moment to grab something from the alcove opposite the fruit stand where the impressive collection of Bob’s Red Mill products is kept, but don’t linger. That passageway can get hairy.
Now, you’re through to the fruits and veg, an impressive part of the store. In this section, the Indian music is accompanied by a soundtrack of running water and chirping, tropical-sounding birds. I guess these calming sounds are supposed to make you want to purchase more fruits and vegetables. It kind of just makes me need to pee.

The selection here is good, and you’ll want to take advantage. I only have two issues with the RM produce: none of it is organic, and among the nice, fresh, quality products, you’ll often find a number of fruits and veggies that are past their prime. Neither of these problems stops me from shopping there, though: for the products that I want to buy organic, I can go elsewhere, and I don’t have a problem with sorting through the less-than-fresh to find the good stuff. Also in this section is a fridge with a small selection of cheeses and dry sausage, and the impressive spice collection. You know that spice in that recipe you really want to try calls for that you can’t seem to find anywhere? They have it here.
After maneuvering your way back out of the produce section, you can investigate the rest of the store: four aisles, with not a millimeter of space wasted. Along the right-hand and back walls of the store are fridges containing a variety of products, but the real treasures can be found in the shelves of dry goods. Once again, be careful, because the aisles are narrow, and your path will often be blocked with boxes that have yet to be unpacked. Don’t be annoyed: it’s part of the charm of the place.

Now, there is no way I can itemize every type of product that is sold here, but let me give you a sample: a huge variety of Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, etc.), Mexican, and American sauces and condiments, oils, vinegars, dried beans, grains, a nice selection of gluten-free products, quinoa, a number of canned fish products, a variety of chips and cookies, nearly a quarter of an aisle full of tomato sauces, three shelves full of different types of honeys, and almost anything you can think of (and a lot of things you probably never thought of) that can come in a can or jar. Oh, and I can’t leave out: an entire wall of the store dedicated to different pastas and noodles.
Every type of noodle, from Italian to Asian and everything else in between, is represented on this wall. It is for wonders like this that I love this store.

So have I enchanted you, or do you think I’m crazy for loving to shop at such an odd little place? My shopping habits have definitely changed since moving out of Redmond, or, that is to say, moving out of a suburb and into a more urban environment. I walk to the store, and I often get my groceries at several different places. I discover new shops every day, from the snobby fromagerie in Westmount, to the hippy co-op in my neck of the woods. I generally only buy what I need for one or two days, and go to the store way more often than I did before. It may sound like more work, but I don’t think that it is. It requires less planning, and I stress less about forgetting something when I’m buying food.

I think Rocky Montana is kind of unique, but maybe I’m wrong. Do you know of a similar place? Would you rather shop there and at several different establishments, or are you more of a one-stop-shopper, preferring to get everything in one big store?

Fruits Rocky Montana
5704, rue Sherbrooke O
Montreal

4 comments:

  1. Yes, it is a very interesting store!! I love shopping that way. I shopped that way a lot when we lived in NDG with you in tow!! ;0)

    Mom

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    1. No wonder I like shopping that way so much: it was ingrained into me from birth!

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  2. I loved Rocky Montanas, you should also checkout D.A.D.S. Bagels for Indian food, and Akavan for tzatziki, feta and almonds and also fruits and veggies.
    Lianne!

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    1. Yep, love D.A.D.S! It's another of my frequent go-tos.

      I like Akhavan as well, but it's pretty out of the way for me, so I don't go often. I know it's another N.D.G. favourite, though!

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