A trip to the supermarket

Normally even I wouldn’t write about a trip to a supermarket, but these aren’t normal times. With the shutdown scheduled to go on for another two weeks, and with some “essential commodities” emptying, I decided to go stock up.

I might just have postponed my trip by a few more days, but then I saw tweets by the top cop of Bangalore saying they’re starting to seize personal vehicles out on the road during the lockdown. I needed to get some heavy stuff (rice, lentils, oils, etc.) so decided to brave it with the car.

Having taken stock of inventory and made a longlist of things we need, I drove out using “back roads” to the very nearby Simpli Namdhari store. While I expected lines at the large-format store, I expected that it would be compensated for by the variety of stuff I could find there.

I got there at 230 only to be told the store was “closed for lunch” and it would reopen at 3. “All counters are open”, the security guard told me. I saw inside that the store was being cleaned. Since it’s a 3 minute drive away, I headed back home and reached there at 3:15.

There was a small line (10-15 people long) when I got there. I must mention I was super impressed by the store at the outset. Lines had been drawn outside to ensure queueing at a safe distance. Deeper in the queue, chairs had been placed (again at a safe distance from each other) to queue in comfort. They were letting in people about 10 at a time, waiting for an equal number to exit the store each time.

It was around 335 by the time I got in (20 minute wait). From the entrance most shelves seemed full.

The thing with Namdhari’s is that they control the supplies of a large number of things they sell (fruits, vegetables, dairy, bread, etc.), and all of them were well stocked. In times like this (I can’t believe I’m using this phrase!), some sort of vertical integration helps, since you can produce the stuff because you know the downstream demand.

(in any case, for things like vegetables and milk, where there is a large gap between “sowing” and “reaping”, production hasn’t fallen at all. It’s a massive supply chain problem and plenty of stuff is getting wasted while people don’t have enough. Stuff like bread is where vertical integration helps)

In any case I took two trips round the supermarket with my trolley, checking items off my checklist as I put items into the trolley (unusual times mean even disorganised people like me make checklists). Again the vertical integration showed.

Stuff that Namdhari’s owns upstream of, like staples and oils, were well stocked. High demand stuff for which Namdhari’s is only a reseller, like Maggi or crisps or biscuits were poorly stocked. Interestingly, “exotic stuff” (like peanut butter or cheeses, around which Namdhari’s has partly built its reputation) was reasonably well stocked, for which I was really thankful (we consume far more of these than the average Indian household).

How much to buy was a dilemma I had in my head through the shopping trip. For one, there was the instinct to hoard, since I was clear I didn’t want another shopping trip like this until the shutdown ends (milk, vegetables and eggs are reasonably easily available close to home, but I wasn’t there for that).

On the other hand, I was “mindful” of “fair usage policy”, to not take more than what I needed, since you didn’t want stockouts if you could help it.

The other thing that shortages do to you is that you buy stuff you don’t normally buy. Like the other day at another shop I’d bought rice bran oil because groundnut oil wasn’t available. While you might buy something as “backup”, you are cognisant that if you get through the lockdown without needing this backup, this backup will never get used.

So even though we’re running short of sambar powder, I ignored it since the only sambar powder on offer looked pretty sad. On the other hand, I bought Haldiram’s Mixture since no “local mixtures” are available nowadays, and mixture is something I love having with my curd rice.

I was a little more “liberal” with stuff that I know won’t go bad such as dry fruits or staples, but then again that’s standard inventory management – you are willing to hold higher inventories of ┬áitems with longer shelf life.

I might have taken a bit longer there to make sure I’d got everything on my list, but then my “mask” made out of a hanky and two rubberbands had started to hurt. So, with half my list unfulfilled, I left.

Even at the checkout line, people stood a metre away from each other. You had to bag your own groceries, which isn’t a standard thing in India, but enforced now since you don’t want too many hands touching your stuff.

Oh, and plenty of people had come by car to the store. There were cops around, but they didn’t bother anyone.

Mutter Paneer for Breakfast!!

So when our newly-recruited cook told us last week that she knows how to cook North Indian dishes, and when we bought Paneer and Frozen Peas at the supermarket yesterday, I assumed that we’ll be having Mutter Paneer for dinner tonight. The cook comes in around 6am, a little after I leave for the gym, so it’s usually the wife’s responsibility to tell her what to make.

And so I return from the gym and find out to my horror that we’re going to have Mutter Paneer for breakfast instead! I mean, who has mutter paneer for breakfast? Or even, who has chapati for breakfast? Isn’t it a dinner item? Well, that’s been one of the longest standing disputes the wife and I have had ever since we started living together.

She comes from a family of rice-eaters (she’s technically Gult, I’ve told you right?), without anyone in her immediate ancestry suffering from any lifestyle disease (heart/diabetes/cholestrol/etc.). And so, they’ve been used to having rice for meals. Rice for lunch, and rice for dinner. And occasionally chapati for breakfast.

I remember this being the case in my family, too, when I was a small kid, but things changed sometime in the 90s. My parents were both plump by then, and for a variety of other reasons, we switched to having oil-free chapatis (phulkas) for dinner. And now that chapati had become a dinner item, it automatically stopped being a breakfast item, and so for breakfast we restricted ourselves to the “traditional stuff” like dosa, akki rotti, uppit, avalakki, etc. (I hate homemade idlis so that was never a part of the menu). And for dinner, apart from chapati, we also started having ragi mudde (ragi balls, made world famous all over India by former PM HD Deve Gowda).

And so the battle begins. She, who has grown up always eating chapati for breakfast, and never for dinner. And I, having been looking at chapati as solely a dinner item for the last twenty years. Ok, chapati and onion-potato palya for breakfast is acceptable. But Mutter Paneer for breakfast? You gotta be kidding me!

Anyways, the Mutter Paneer was good, and I did need a high-calorie meal after the gym session, so this cribbing here is more for the sake of cribbing rather than a genuine crib. Also, it is possible that it’s healthier to reserve the high-density food for breakfast, and have something light for dinner (I admit mutter paneer for dinner isn’t that good for health). But mutter paneer for breakfast and then rasam rice for dinner?

I’m sorry but I’m not a big fan of rasam. I find it too low-density and not filling enough. And in order to fill myself I need to eat a lot of rice, and eating a lot of rice at night makes me sometimes feel gross as soon as I get up the next morning.

Ok I’ll stop cribbing now. And I guess I’m a CHoM.