Jenny Lou’s

8 Oct

Jenny Lou’s

Jenny Lou’s is a Beijing grocery store for expats. It sells everything foreign, from cold cuts to capers, “Lucky Charms” to weird Japanese “digestive cookies.” The fruits and vegetables are imported, so nervous expat mothers can rest easy when serving their children green peas and carrots. The last time I visited Jenny Lou’s, I found English muffins, manufactured in Beijing specifically to sell at the store. They were square shaped and I had to cut them in half myself, but they were so American!

Jenny Lou’s is mesmerizing. As soon as you push past the big plastic flaps on the entrance and smell the hot baguettes, you forget that most of what’s sold at Jenny Lou’s can also be found at a typical Beijing grocery store (mine is called Lotte Mart). For half the price.

Foreigners wander in and suddenly feel at home, although if Jenny Lou’s were transported to a Western country, it would be considered small and under-stocked. In Beijing, it feels like a foreigner-friendly food haven. Surrounded by English nutritional information and “Orbits” gum, I find myself wanting to buy things I never even eat in America.

“Check out that bowtie pasta. Oh hey, are those canned cocktail olives? Look! ‘Meat Lover’s hot pockets!’ “

Before I know it, my cart is full and I’m about to buy a 10-pack of “Bon Bell Cheese” and three frozen pizzas. Why? So I can feel just a little more at home in a foreign city.

But the fact is, though Beijing can feel lonely at times, it’s a booming metropolis, becoming less and less “foreign” every day. One of my friends calls Beijing as a “city for wimps.” With the exception of some genuinely rare products (cooking spray and Yellow Tail wine), most of the items at Jenny Lou’s can also be found in Chinese grocery stores. Oreos, sliced cheese, even “Activia” yogurt are common sights on the shelves at the local “Lotte Mart.”

At Lotte Mart recently, I was putting imported 50% fat-free sliced cheese (20 kuai) in my basket when one of the shop girls pulled me over and pointed to some Chinese cheese next to the imported stuff. It was only 9 kuai.

“Is it 50% fat free too?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “The Chinese brand is exactly the same.” I thanked
her, thrilled to save 11 kuai.

Lotte Mart is fine, but once in a while, you need something that you really can’t get in a Chinese grocery store. And the only thing more disappointing than not finding your favorite ketchup or cereal at your local Lotte Mart is not finding it at Jenny Lou’s. The last time I went to Jenny’s I was looking for honey. Honey is sold all over Beijing, but I wanted the honey bear kind, the one in bottle shaped like a little bear with a plastic hat for a spout. I’d convinced myself that the spout was less messy than the jar kind and easier to pour.

They didn’t have it. I left with a lollipop from the checkout counter. It was the kind sold at every checkout counter at every Chinese grocery store.

It’s not a magnificent grocery store and the imported foods are outrageously overpriced. Every expat I know would agree that Chinese food is awesome. So, why do we feel such a strong need to shop for imported food? Even the owners of Jenny Lou’s know it’s ridiculous. They stock the Chinese brands right next to their imported foreign brand counterparts. At Jenny Lou’s, the “Quaker Instant Oatmeal” (35 kuai) is right next to the Chinese oatmeal (19.90 kuai). They’re the same size and the same product, but  satisfy very different needs.

I still haven’t bought any honey. I see Chinese brands every time I go grocery shopping, but I never spend the $2 to buy a bottle. I guess it’s not the honey I’m looking for.

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One Response to “Jenny Lou’s”

  1. Sue Collie October 8, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    Hey, Taylor…..loved the grocery shopping blog – can’t wait until I come visit and go with you for this experience!

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