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Perplexed by lack of food availability.

I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which has a population of about 350 000 people. I love to experiment as I cook, and my family usually enjoys the results. Save for the odd fresh herb or two, I can usually get ahold of pretty much any grocery item I would like, often in the regular grocery store. However, I often see posts from people in cities that I believe are a lot bigger than mine, asking for advice on where to find something.

Do you suppose that either :
a) my little city has better than average access to food?
b) a lot of people unfamiliar with unusual items stumble up CH in their search for an item and rightfully think this would be a great spot to ask for advice?
c) some other reason I'm just no thinking of?

This is in no way a criticism of any of you or your cities :). I'm just curious!

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  1. c) some other reason :)

    For example, I asked earlier this year about quail eggs. Not exotic, just not carried at the the several main neighborhood stores I stop by. Rather than drive in a 25-50 mile radius searching every store in the 6 million-person+ metroplex, I asked for knowledgeable suggestions. Saves time and effort. Using the hive mind for personal gain lol.

    4 Replies
    1. re: DuchessNukem

      ha, it's sad, I just looked for the "like" button when I read "using the hive mind for personal gain." It's true, though. With our brains combined, there is nothing we can't do :P I DO use chow for that a lot... I could search endlessly driving around, or come on here and ask! I also get tons of information along with the asking, so it's a win-win.

      1. re: kubasd23

        Oh dear yes, I do that too: look for the "Like" button on Chowhound! I felt privately foolish but now since you've come clean I can take comfort in the solidarity!

        1. re: 64airstream

          When the time comes that the Chowhound website integrates itself with Facebook is the time when I delist myself from Chowhound.

          1. re: John E.

            Always good to have a backup plan.

    2. LIke the OP, I usually find what I need in my usual supermarket - although I also choose to shop at the farmers market and, from time to time, at one of the nearby "ethnic" shops.

      FWIW, I live in a smallish borough (300K population) in north west England.

      1. Supermarkets cater to their local clientel. We live in a very rural village and the nearest place to shop is a working-class market town where the local store devotes practically an entire isle to tinned beans in tomato sauce and carries lots of ready-made sauces and the like, but try to find a staple like polenta or even mustard seed and you're plumb out of luck! Go a few miles away to a more "up-market" town and the choice increases greatly, but still depends on the make-up of the population, i.e. ethic diversity, culture, etc. So, product availability depends on the client base served by the shops and what people cook (or don't). Shops carry what sells and has a good turnover. Speciality shops, markets and good-ol' mail order help us fill the many gaps...and it pays to plan ahead and be flexible!

        1. It can take time for people to figure out where to buy these things - I live in a somewhat rural (and very Quebecois) area of Quebec, 40 minutes from Montreal, and it took me 7 months to find quinoa. LOL. I lived an hour from Vancouver and never had trouble with the rare ingredients. Ethnically homogeneous cities with an older population are especially difficult for the rarities.

          1. I'm in the metro DC area. There are so many shopping options here, it is sometimes easier to ask a savvy CH than to drive all over the place in search of the item, especially if it is something rather unusual (your item b). I am pretty sure almost every ingredient known to humankind is here.....I just haven't run across them all yet.

            1. I think I should add - I am often surprised by how often requests seem unfillable.

              2 Replies
              1. re: CanadaGirl

                What makes you think they are unfillable?

                Usually on these queries the negative posters jump in first as in ... good luck, I've never seen it. Often people dont report back.

                Too much of a variety can also lead to an inquiry. if you have millions of choices in an area such as mine (SF), it can be difficult to know the best place to look. it is the people who frequently use the site that often ask, not someone stumbling in.

                1. re: rworange

                  I've seen queries where the object hasn't been found. Sometimes I've seen a number of suggestions, but then the OP has responded back saying the spot didn't carry it.

                  Of course, it is possible that my perception on this is wrong!

              2. I think there are 2 factors at work here -- first is population size. The more people, the greater the odds are for a demand in specialty products, I think.
                The second is composition of that population. I'm in Kingston, Ontario -- I can find a fair number of Asian products here, mostly East Asian vs South Asian though, and more so than specialty Italian products. These products are found mostly downtown, in a couple of dedicated Asian shops. There is a great natural foods/whole foods/organic type shop downtown too, called Taras. There is a dedicated vitamin and supplement store (The Green Door). And a bunch of tattoo shops, too. Also, a large, large number of yoga studios. Not surprisingly, Queen's University is located very close by. So, for a town of 112,000, we're pretty well off in terms of holistic/alternative/import food types of products, primarily due to "what sells". If I look at any town in the lower mainland of BC, though, with similar size, their product range will be significantly different in some areas. I know when I visited my friend in Arlington, Virginia, and went to a grocery store to find South Asian products to whip up a curry, I couldn't find a single thing in their International Section. Now, if I wanted to make Mexican food, I would have been very, very well set. So I think its population size but more so, maybe population composition...:)

                1. The answer is behind door 'C'.........................

                  You live in a port city with many different immigrant groups and international visitors, not just tourists but the ships' crews as well.

                  People who live in a homogenous inland community will not have the same access to 'exotic' foods. The local supermarket will carry the 'whitebread' variety of groceries with a few items that are typical of the main ethnic population of the area.

                  The heartland of North America has been a culinary wasteland, but it is changing as evidenced by the growing Hispanic population in the US plains states and growing Asian population in the Canadian Prairies. But for the most part, variety of foodstuffs are available in big cities with multiethnic populations, and port cities.

                  1. Spent two lovely weeks on your island years ago, camping out around the coast, following the lobster catch. You live in a very beautiful place. However, I spent quite a bit of time poking around your grocery stores, and I have to say that I think you'd have a difficult time sourcing Asian, Middle Eastern, or Latin ingredients. This was years ago, though, so maybe things have changed.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: pikawicca

                      Things have definitely changed. There are 2 middle eastern specialty stores within walking distance of my house and an amazing east Asian grocery about 10 minutes away, an excellent Indian grocery about 15 minutes away, plus others less convenient to me. We've even got specifically Korean and Japanese stores, for example. But, I can get most things at regular grocery stores, including Latin stuff.

                      But, I live in the city, and expect that rural NS (like rural everywhere) would have fewer food choices in the grocery store.

                      Looks like you need to come back :). But, we're a peninsula, not an island :)

                      1. re: pikawicca

                        Yeah Pikawicca, I was thinking about how I visited the east coast in '04 and discovered how absolutely WONDERFUL lobster is there. But, beef..sorry. Gahhhhh. (I live in Alberta though :) ) lol

                        1. re: livetocook

                          My grocery store carries Alberta beef :)

                      2. Even in a place like Toronto where we have a bit of just about everything, people might stick to their hoods and not know where to get certain things locally. For example, I'm in the east end, Greektown, near Little India and Chinatown east. I can get 10 kinds of feta, but not portuguese pastries or decent bagels (or much else in the way of Jewish foods). Specifically I remember a hound posting to tell me that I could find canned poppy seed filling in the kosher section. Well then I understood why I had never seen this product - I am in the wrong part of town. There's a kosher SHELF at my local grocer! And to this day many years later I have not found myself in a grocery store in an area where I would think to look for it. It's just totally off my beaten track. Halifax may have most
                        of the same foods available, but in a much more compact, easier to know area.

                        1 Reply
                        1. I found it hard to find much unusual food at all in NS except in Halifax.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: magiesmom

                            What did you think of the selection in Halifax?

                            1. re: CanadaGirl

                              I thought it was good, lots of ethnic food but a little low on vegetables, but we didn't shop extensively.

                              1. re: magiesmom

                                The major grocery store chains have just expanded their vegetable offerings; i used to be quite disappointed sometimes. But, there is a local "chain" with two locations that carries an amazingly broad selection of fruit and vegetables. On the rare occassion they didn't carry what I wanted, they were actually able to get it in.

                          2. Answer - you live in Canada, which is way more multicultural melting pot than the US. So I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if exotics were a lot more readily available there.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: Kajikit

                              Huh, I wonder where you are in the US. There's a huge supply of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Indian, Italian, British, French, German, Brazilian, Mexican, etc. goods (and people) here. (Shouldn't suprise me, as half or more of my coworkers are from outside the US.)

                              1. re: Kajikit

                                Huh? I live in Los Angeles, there is no more multicultural population than here. In the U.S.

                                1. re: laliz

                                  I never would have guessed that Canada "....iis a way more multicultural melting pot than the US." Do you have any information to support that theory? It would be interesting to know the definition of multicultural melting pot as well.

                                  1. re: John E.

                                    Maybe the poster was referring to Canada's official policy of multiculturalism, where immigrants are encourage to retain their traditions and customs while integrating rather than the melting pot idea of the US. Canadians refer to a "mosaic" rather than a "melting pot". (not that all cdns like the policy of multiculturalism)

                                    Or maybe not :)

                                      1. re: CanadaGirl

                                        I didn't get that from the mention of 'melting pot'.

                                        I also directed my question to the wrong person.

                                  2. re: Kajikit

                                    Depends what part of Canada you're in. In BC it's easier to get "exotic" stuff in Vancouver than Victoria, in Victoria than in Kamloops and in Kamloops than in Lillooet. It drove me nuts trying to get what I considered basics in Kitchener Waterloo when I went to grad school; moving to Toronto changed all that. I would imagine the same is true in the other nine provinces and three territories -- the smaller and more remote the place, the less likely there will be a wide variety of choices available.

                                  3. Yeah, it's all about diversity of the city or neighbourhood you are in. Here in Edmonton, you can find almost any ingredient you need. (This is such a huge multicultural city.) But, every once and a while one is a challenge. For example, I had a dickens of a time finding challah. (I don't think there's much of a Jewish communtiy here, well that I know of.) I know of one place that for sure has it but, you have to get it before 9am and it's about a 1/2hr drive from my house. The other place, I've only "read" has it and it's 45min. Oh well. Someday perhaps I'll buy it and make that ultimate french toast I've always want to try.

                                    Another ingredient (s) I can think of is a larger array of peppers like poblanos. I haven't maybe looked as hard and could probably find it at the superstore a couple blocks from my house. But, perhaps not. Haven't had an inkling to tinker in the mexican/ tex mex for a while.

                                    1. Many years ago my parents lead tours to Alaska and Canada. What I remember them telling me about the food in Nova Scotia is that they seemed to get boiled carrots at both the noon and evening meal. This was about 25 years ago. Is that still common?

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: John E.

                                        It's not common from my experience :)

                                        That's quite the distance. Alaska is pretty far from Nova Scotia; where else in Canada did they go?

                                        1. re: CanadaGirl

                                          They were not the same tour. They did the Vancouver, inside passage cruise to Alaska several times and then switched to your end of Canada with a tour that went through New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. I think they did that tour twice.

                                          When I was a kid we drove to Alaska, up the ALCAN highway when there were still 1.200 miles of it unpaved.

                                          1. re: John E.

                                            Thanks. I didn't think it was the same tour - that would be a very illogical way to go! Was the tour of NS, NB and PEI by boat? I've never heard of that, but it sounds interesting.

                                            1. re: CanadaGirl

                                              No, by motor coach (a big bus). My parents were in their early 50s and the tour group was made up of seniors 60s to 80s. I don't remember much of what they said about the food, just the carrots. Maybe it was because of the places at which they were eating.

                                        2. re: John E.

                                          Hey, boiled carrots are good. OK, maybe not twice a day.

                                          1. re: Wawsanham

                                            I despise boiled carrots. I do however like them carmelized ala Jacques Pepin. He sautees them briefly in butter, adds brown sugar or honey and then a small amount of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, put the lid on and cook until the carrots are tender and most of the water is gone. Remove the lid and in a few minutes the carrots will have been glazed by the sugar. It's the only way we like cooked carrots. I don't even want them in beef stew. (I put in sauteed parsnips instead).

                                            1. re: John E.

                                              Another great use for carrots is as the nose in a snowman, which is where they belong IMHO LOLOL

                                        3. The bigger a city is the more possible places there are to find something, and the more complicated it will be to get there.

                                          In a small but diverse city like Halifax you check out different areas or stores fairly easily, and it will be easier to know where the good places are. In a large city, ethnic neighbourhoods are often more compartmentalized and farther apart. There are probably correspondingly more places to find a particular ingredient, but it can take a lot more effort to locate one. Think of the difference between, say, driving ten minutes to check out a store, and taking a cross town bus at a two hour round trip.

                                          For me, it's about an hour and a half round trip by bus to check one of the stores that sells a good variety of foreign foods. If I have to check two or three places, that will take a good portion of a Saturday.

                                          1. I was going to post something similar about my supermarket, here in Columbus, Ohio. A bigger city than Halifax, but certainly not NYC or Toronto.

                                            For me, the grocery stores in my area of town (close to the city, middle to upper middle class, lots of university types) carry most items I need, but the ones near my in-laws in the almost-rural outlying suburb do not. This was brought home to me when my in-laws wanted to know where to buy kale. Yes, plain old kale, not a special variety. In my area, kale is at every supermarket but they thought they needed to go to a specialty store. Nope, just a supermarket a few miles away.

                                            That and I don't cook anything super exotic. I mean, by the average person's standard I do, but not by CH standards. I've never had trouble finding an ingredient for a recipe in a general cookbook or website, but if I were delving deep into say...Malaysian cooking beyond the basics I might have trouble. But we have plenty of ethnic markets, so I'd probably find it...after asking on CH :)

                                            1. This isn't exactly a reply to your question, CanadaGirl, but coincidentally I was just thinking along similar lines, about the fact that I can get pretty much whatever I want in my grocery store these days. Just this afternoon I was in the checkout line and realized I'd forgotten something. I couldn't run back for it without holding up the line, so I asked if someone could get it for me (they seem happy to do that at my store, believe it or not). When the employee -almost certainly a highschool student working part time) asked what I needed, I told him I needed naan. He didn't look perplexed, or say "what's that?" or ask how to spell it, or what it looked like. He just very kindly went and got it for me. This was in suburban Buffalo. There is a South Asian population here, but it's not very big--we're certainly not Toronto, or New York, or Vancouver.

                                              9 Replies
                                                1. re: John E.

                                                  So, did they find your grandma?

                                                    1. re: Cliocooks

                                                      I knew that, I was attempting humor......