I suspect I haven't spotted a market and ignored its wonders in, well, I don't know how long. And if you've tip-toed through a wet market in China, lucked upon a gorgeous weekend growers market in some lovely Italian hamlet, or even just found yourself on a jetty when the local fishing fleet returns from sea, you'll understand the attraction.
Foreign supermarkets also intrigue me. Where I come from supermarkets are for the most part pretty drab. Their products are run-of-the-mill, perfectly nice, all the staples we need and the occasional burst of something colourful. And yet some places...
...like Hong Kong, have remarkable supermarkets. They're a perfect mix of modern convenience, global goods, and local marketplace with tubs of wriggling seafood, some recognisable, some not so. Pop Tarts and dried cuttlefish side by side in perfect FMCG harmony. An hour at a loose end spent wandering the aisles and browsing the walls of unexpected soft drinks is well worth it. Almost an essential travel experience, for mine.
Laneway market, Central - Hong Kong.
Nowhere more so than in the US where supermarkets are supersized, and consumer goods are supercharged with colour and an overabundance of convenience. Exhibit A: Hard-boiled eggs ready to go (because they're tricky to do on the stove, right?) in a handy re-sealable packet. Or, if you're making meringues, why fuss about with yolks and bits of shell when you can just grab a carton of egg whites to go?
If there's this much happening at the egg-end of the produce spectrum, you can imagine what other wonders await in the aisles of these cavernous cathedrals of consumption.
Some of this stuff really has to be seen to be believed. So here's a bit of a photo essay of a recent expedition through an enormous Wegmen's supermarket in Virginia showcasing some of the most colourful and convenient oddities I've ever encountered.
WARNING: The following content may not be suitable for the young and implusive. Parents of children may wish to send the littlies into another room before proceeding.
These are...marshmallows. Big ones.
These are Cheese Balls. Lots of them.
Cruising the convenience aisles...easier than boiling an egg.