Once, grocery shopping meant trailing behind my mom as she wandered down every aisle of Safeway, then grudgingly helping her load the bags into the back of the minivan. Now, it means stopping in Duane Reade for some milk that hasn’t expired or ordering Pad Thai from Seamless.
But after scrounging around my fridge recently—and staring at a barren bank account (thanks, Upper East Side rent)—I’ve decided to perfect the art of Manhattan grocery shopping. Sounds easy enough, right? But there’s a reason there’s a restaurant every two steps in this city: New Yorkers don’t cook. And the ones that do are either ordering from Fresh Direct or sending their personal assistants to do it for them.
Having neither the time to order from a service nor the money to hire an assistant, I decided to venture out on my own. When I first moved to the city, I found a little rolling cart at the hardware store in my neighborhood. It was a grandma cart so adorable, I named it Esther. Genius! I thought. I’ll use it for all the fabulous grocery shopping I’ll do to create delicious gourmet meals! One week later, Esther was full of dirty laundry.
Four years and one apartment later, I pulled Esther out of the closet, unfolded her, and set out to the Food Emporium. Another difference from the days of Safeway? There is no minivan here, honey. There is either walking with six bags per arm (highly un-recommended, as I discovered the first time I tried and had to stop every minute on the way home to give my arms a break), or rolling up with your g-ma cart.
As I rattled 3 blocks and one avenue away, I could feel the dirty stares of Upper East Siders looking at Esther. I imagined they were all thinking Why didn’t she just send her housekeeper? Still, I marched on. I made it to the Food Emporium and stacked Esther full of everything from veggies to fiber-full yogurt. After everything was bagged, I headed home, feeling proud of myself for catching sales and spending $120 for more than two weeks’ worth of groceries—significantly less than I normally tally up with restaurants, takeout, and work-cafeteria lunches.
While I walked, I dreamed of the gorgeous frittata I’d fix for the week’s lunch and the grilled chicken salad I’d whip up for dinner. As I rounded the corner, I started humming to myself. And then: Esther hit a sidewalk crack. Before I could blink, there was a heap of cracked eggs and chipotle-lime marinade oozing all over a bag of multigrain Tostitos on the sidewalk.
Needless to say, my first effort as a grown-up, responsible New York foodie didn’t go as planned. But even though I had my head down for the rest of my trip home with Esther, occasionally looking back wistfully at the $10 of groceries I’d accidentally just dumped, I was back to feeling good again later that night when I made a big salad. And since that night, I’ve ventured on a few more successful trips to both the Emporium and Whole Foods, and I’m on a good, solid BYOL (yes, I just made up “Bring Your Own Lunch”) streak at work. So, I pat myself—and Esther—on the back. Huzzah to me for being grownup—and a chef-in-training! But tonight, I think I’m in the mood for Pad Thai. Seamless, anyone?