Louisiana Grocery Stores: NOLA Shopping

Seeing how people’s lives vary from ours is one of my favorite things of our travels. One of the best places to see this? The grocery store.

The most recent grocers we went to was in Louisiana: a Piggly Wiggly. It’s a store we don’t have on the West Coast, but one that I’ve heard of. Where have I heard it before? No idea. Maybe from a movie or a book, or friends who visited the South.

When we went in to the Piggly Wiggly, we pulled a rookie move. We arrived without a list. This means we bought two essentials: garbanzo beans and milk, and a whole bunch of things we definitely didn’t need: ice cream, barbecue-flavored-chips, store-brand cinnamon rolls (the biggest mistake) and Louisiana-brewed beer. We wandered the aisles on a Friday afternoon, with the line at the front of the store lengthening at the check cashing counter.

Coffee, but not quite all the way

I stopped near the scent of coffee: my heart and my nose consistently bring me to the coffee aisle. Fingering the bright packaging, I recalled that when I was 8 or 10 I would beg my mom for us to buy the mini bags of vacuum-packed freeze-dried coffee. I wanted it so that I could pinch the bag between my fingers, not so that I could drink it. As an adult, I’ve received these vacuum packed coffees in half-ass gift bags, and even purchased them myself.

The coffee aisle in the Piggly Wiggly was similar to other grocery stores, but something struck my eye: coffee and chicory mixes. I think chicory and coffee makes it true Louisiana grocery store.

A popular drink in New Orleans, chicory-coffee rose to popularity during the American Civil war when New Orlean’s ports were shut off from goodness of that black caffeinated drink. A method to make coffee go further, chicory was a smart addition to the beverage. Not unlike the flowery root tea that I drink most days after I’ve consumed my two cups of coffee, chicory is in the dandelion family. It’s become a New Orleans staple, and there were several brands of coffee-chicory coffee. I listened to a conversation of an older woman chatting on her cell phone, seemingly shopping for her daughter.

“Do you want chicory or not?” She asked. A moment went by, “Okay, sounds good.” She scooped up four bags of chicory-coffee and tossed them in her cart, then trotted off to the next stop on her list. They aren’t there just for tourists, turns out. (Most tourists aren’t shoppping at the Piggly Wiggly to be fair. Just us. It wouldn’t be a trip to Louisiana if I didn’t visit a Louisiana Grocery.)

Hot chocolate imposters

Meandering further down the aisle, where I expected hot cocoa and teas to be stocked, I found Ovaltine. I’m guessing Ovaltine is probably still  sold in grocery stores in Oregon, right? No idea. We had it on occasion as kids, and it has a chalky texture but is comparable to hot cocoa when mixed with hot milk. My mother boasted that it was better for us than just regular hot chocolate, and it was a mediocre compromise.  The Ovaltine at the Piggly Wiggly was front-and-center though, not in an awkwardly high corner that you’d find it in an Oregon store.

Directly above the Ovaltine was something that I spent ten minutes trying to find in a grocery store for my boss when I worked at a bakery: malted milk. In both Chocolate and Original I was struck by the sheer amount of available malted milk when in previous years I wasn’t able to find it at all in a regular grocers that I was accustomed to.

Snacks in Lousiana

Much of the Louisiana grocery was similar to ones we’ve seen on the way, but I’m certain I’ve started normalizing things I hadn’t expected to see.

For instance, they sell a lot of pork rinds in small snack packages, and we’ve seen more moon pies than I ever care to notice in the future. To be fair, this moon pie thing started while we were still in a small town in Texas. I tried one several months ago and regretted it quite immediately. (To the person who convinced me to try one, I may never forgive you. I know you’re reading this now.) Seriously. They’re gross. If you think you like them, it’s just the nostalgia talking, I’d be willing to bet.

Lettuce: One size fits all

Recently I was chatting with someone on Instagram who was a native Louisianian who had moved away from the State for college 20-some years ago. I had mentioned to her I was looking for a salad when we went out to eat in a small Louisiana town, and wasn’t able to order one.

Her response made me laugh, “I didn’t even know there was lettuce other than iceberg until I moved away. We’d just never had any other kind. You might be lucky to get a bowl of iceberg and a tomato if you can find a salad.”

Don’t worry, I made up for the lack of salads by eating extra beignets while we visited.

We’re in Florida for a few weeks, and I’m excited to see what kind of new products the grocery stores have, and what they don’t. Any bets on what we’ll find?  

2 thoughts on “Louisiana Grocery Stores: NOLA Shopping

  1. Hmmm… My Oregonian slanted perception would be that there would be lots of fresh fruit. Probably finfluenced by the many commercials telling me that their orange juice comes from Florida’s oranges! Are they better than most? Doubt it says the girl who tasted vine ripened oranges in Sevilla when she lived in Spain.

  2. Grocery stores are so fascinating! My mind is still boggled at how things are “organized” here. One thing I can’t recall having ever seen at a US grocery store is an escalator. Do they even have two-story grocers there? (It’s totally common in Europe.)
    Also, who is eating all of those Moon Pies?!?

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