Top 10 Island Grocery Shopping Tips

I remember living in Seattle and bitching about the produce. It was too expensive, not fresh enough, the avocados aren’t ripe/too ripe/there aren’t enough of them. Oh, look at the lines! This is ridiculous! How can I live under these conditions?! And then, I moved to Grand Cayman. Now, it’s rotten food that you’re just supposed to accept, pay a high price for, and actually eat. THE SLOWEST CHECKERS IN THE FREAKINNNNNNG WORLD. Seriously. They act like you’re bothering them, especially when they have to finish texting and put their phones down. And the lines! I’ll never complain when I go to the States again! I’ve learned, among other things, to bring a book with me when I go to the grocery store and the bank. Yes, grocery shopping on an island takes some finesse – and a whole lot of patience…

Here are my 10 Tips for Grocery Shopping on Grand Cayman:

1. Always check for mold and expiration dates.

EVERYTHING has to be shipped to the island, so unless you’re buying local, just know that whatever you’re buying has been stuck in a container that may or may not have been refrigerated. And it may or may not have already been old when it was put into that container in the first place. So whenever possible, buy local.

rotten produce collage_WWLOR

wilted cucumber – mildewy limes – furry beets

 

2. Buy local.  But also, be careful!

local cassava_WWLOR

How much more local can you get? Yup, that’s grated cassava in a plastic baggie. I can’t imagine there was much quality checking going on wherever this was packaged… This would NEVER be allowed back home!

But there is a lovely Farmer’s Market every Wednesday in Camana Bay – a perfect choice for your produce:

*picture courtesy of Nick Adendorff, owner of Green2Go Smoothies. If you're on island and are craving a Green Juice, email him at nick2812@gmail.com. The best local and organic juice for your money - he'll even bring it to your front door!!

*picture courtesy of Nick Adendorff, owner of Green2Go Smoothies. If you’re on island and are craving a Green Juice, email him at nick2812@gmail.com. The best local and organic juice for your money – he’ll even bring it to your front door!!

 

3. Do NOT go shopping on a Saturday night in West Bay.

Or in any district for that matter. Everything besides restaurants and bars are closed on Sunday, so make sure you stock up on whatever you need BEFORE the rush at 8:30pm on a Saturday night. It seems that everybody forgets this fact and rushes to shop at the exact same time. And don’t get me started with how sloooooow the checkers are. And you have to bag your own groceries. We really are spoiled in the US.

tv watching while shopping_WWLOR

But if you forget this warning and decide to go shopping anyway during the Saturday night rush, at least you’ll have some TV to watch while you stand in line. You and the checker can enjoy the TV, together.

4. Stay away from Reduced Price stickers.

white, dried up baby carrots anyone?

white, dried up baby carrots anyone?

“Reduced price” only means one thing: whatever it is should have been thrown away a week ago. Or never shipped here in the first place. These were all white and ollllld.

5. Don’t get your heart set on having a particular item.

You may have to go to two (and sometimes three or even four) stores to get what you need. Don’t forget about the Cayman Lime Shortage, otherwise known as Limepocalypse, that made the news in 2013. There’s also been weeks without bananas, chips, face wash, and let’s not get started about the clothes here. (It’s Tacky Tuesday every Tuesday…)

Oh, you wanted what used to be in that wide, gaping shelf hole? Yeah, sorry. They're out.

Oh, you wanted what used to be in that wide, gaping shelf hole? Yeah, sorry. They’re out.

 

6. If you have time, price check.

One store may have an item that’s much cheaper than another store. We have a Cost-U-Less (which sometimes is more of a Cost-U-More) – it’s supposed to be like a Costco, minus the membership. If you want a lot of something, go here. Typically the prices are cheaper and you get more, but not always. And if you find something that you like at a good price, buy as many of them as you can. For instance, I just found a 27oz jar of pure almond butter for $14.95 (that’s $18.69 US). But look how much the 16 oz jars are!

pb pricing_WWLOR

inexplicably, 27 oz of almond butter is CHEAPER than buying 16oz…

 

7. Choose your frozen food wisely.

Refer to Shopping Tip #2.

Brown peas?!  My favorite!!

Brown peas?!  My favorite!!

8. Wear pants.

Important notice: the grocery store is NOT the beach.

Important notice: the grocery store is NOT the beach.

This is NOT me body-shaming this woman. She can wear whatever she wants at the beach! AT. THE. BEACH. Would you walk into a Nordstrom in New York City wearing just your bikini bottoms? Ok. Maybe that’s a little extreme. But you get my point. This is a place of business. Put clothes on, people. It’s not hard to just throw a cover up on. Please and thank you.

9.  If you have a friend that lives on the island and you come to visit them, expect to be bringing an extra suitcase of stuff from home that they can’t live without.

You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. And it’s the little things that make you miss home. Certain candy, hair products, soda… Most of the time, it’s also just cheaper to get staples from Costco and have them brought over. My friend Brianna here with her score:

#islandgirlscore

#islandgirlscore

 

10. Excited to try that new recipe that you found on Pinterest? Don’t get your hopes up.

We may not even have the item that you’re looking for on the ENTIRE island, but if we do, it’s gonna cost you…

Twenty grams of Black Truffle: $104.05 Cayman dollars = $130.06 US dollars! Ouch.

Twenty grams of Black Truffle: $104.05 Cayman dollars = $130.06 US dollars! Ouch.

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What’s the grocery shopping like on your rock? Any tips you think we should add to the list?

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34 thoughts on “Top 10 Island Grocery Shopping Tips

  1. This article is great! We are much smaller than Grand Cayman with only a couple of options. Therefore we find ourselves quite fortunate to have enough volume in our restaurant to order large quantities of goods that justify a shared container. Imported Blue Cheese, Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar and other very important ingredients to make our all house made meals. Yes, we even make our own pasta…..However, once in awhile we run out of something, something super scarce like Romaine Lettuce (funny huh?) and its an act of the local airlines, mainland distributors and my special needs whining to bring it to the island …..Yes, I appreciate every too soft Papaya, somewhat ripened apples and heavily seeded grapes we get. 🙂

  2. I had a friend that used to live on island then moved back to Toronto. We would meet in Florida for long weekends.
    I remember one trip to walmart where, first she insisted I waited in the car, then, reluctantly agreed that I could come into the store, but wasn’t aloud to look at anything!!
    We went into the store, she lost me, then found me 40 minutes later in the chip isle!! She approached me with caution as I mumbled to myself about how you could get chips AND dip for less than $5. After she got me to leave the isle……with it’s 17,000 varieties of chips I grabbed 4 packs of fresh……FRESH strawberries and headed to the check out that where less then the cost of one pack on the rock!!!……….I should have stayed in the car!!!

    • Haha. I remember when I went home recently and I had strawberries and it was like I was having them for the first time!!!! I couldn’t stop making noises and saying how amazing they were!! They weren’t even organic or anything. Just fresh!!

  3. A concoction made with different ingredients is NOT “Wrong” – it is new and delightful and adventurous. Since you can’t change the shopping experience, change the attitude.

  4. Whew! Overwhelmingly negative article. Makes me think you should go back to the States. I think the grocery stores are very well stocked, for an island. The packaged local goods, could happen anywhere. I agree with an above poster – change your attitude!!

    • Not negative at all! Just a different perspective. I came from a place where there is food in excess, to the point of being ridiculous. Yes, for an island in the middle of nowhere, the stores are very well stocked. Sometimes I’m actually surprised that they have a lot of the more obscure items, like imported sauces from Italy and the Phillipines! And reasonably priced considering how far they came! I’m sure it takes anyone who moves from a large country that is known for excess a while to “change their attitude”, but it does eventually happen!

  5. I am an American expat living in Bermuda and this could have easily been about Bermuda!!! So funny and true

    • I think maybe it was just the misunderstanding of the story.
      I didn’t think you were complaining- LOL
      We sure do have a lot to be thankful for- and also to be ashamed of- here in the states! It’s not just islands, after returning form my first trip to Russia (the biggest 3rd world country) I gave away almost all my clothes in my closet. I sure didn’t mean to start a museum in there. And the amount of food we throw out here…
      I love the islands. Coming form a town where we took out the flashing light and put in a stop sign- al this doesn’t faze me. Love the people and the place.

      • Thank you!!! I’m so thankful for so much here! It’s been a really great 2 years since I moved here. And it sure does put it into perspective how much we THINK we need, and realizing that you don’t need any of that stuff to be happy! When I go home I just shake my head. It’s hard to go back and see how much waste and trash and packaging is used. I usually can’t wait to get back to my tiny island.

  6. Truffles and almond butter, you lucky duck. Never seen such exotics on Tortsville, that’s Tortola for those not in the loop. I must say tho’ that despite all the newbies complaining about the shopping here, it is much improved since I first arrived 30+ years ago . In those days if there was lettuce it was iceberg that you peeled off half the head before you got to something semi-edible. And meat well, it was only frozen and came in grey, greyer and greyest! The only thing that made it edible was to cook it for hours in ketchup and hot sauce. So no I think we have really got it pretty good now. Strawberries are a delight just to have as a choice and all year round as well.

  7. Brilliant article and so true for Anguilla. I had people for dinner last night so I found a recipe that I knew I’d be able to get everything for. It’s was Sweet potato and black bean curry. It’s a Caribbean curry so it’s made with jerk seasoning nothing like an Asian curry. It was so good everyone asked for the recipe. It’s on BBC Good Food if any of you want it.
    However when I was looking at the moulds sweet potatoes in the store a lovely Anguillian lady came and told me not to touch them, then directed me to another batch picking out the good ones for me.
    Even after nearly two years I have not got a clue what some of the root vegetables are.

  8. Moving to Virgin Gorda late December 2014 and then shopping for food was a huge wake up call. I kept up a good attitude — “Hey, an adventure! Oh boy! Enjoy the new and different!” What I didn’t realize then was that I was in the beginning stages of grief. Step #1 – DENIAL. “Hey, an adventure! Oh boy!” Step #2 – ANGER. Just ask my husband. He was ready to pitch me into the ocean. “Stop yelling at me! You wanted to come here!” Step #3 -BARGAINING. If I had just thought about this move in more detail I wouldn’t be here right now, damn it. Step #4 – DEPRESSION. Your friends just love to hear you whine about how you’re losing weight and feeling isolated while picturing you in the sun on a Caribbean island when they’re fighting the Northeast Winter of 2014/2015. Step #5 – ACCEPTANCE. Yeah, the food is not the quality I’m used to, but there are places in world who don’t have grocery stores at all and the view is to die for from my house, so I’m good.

      • I love the stages of grief analogy. I had no idea what to expect when I moved here. I’d never been to an island like this before, just Maui, which is much different than Cayman. Once I got through my adjustment period, I learned how to make different foods or how to supplement things. Or just make something else until they have what I need!

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