Adventures in grocery shopping during the lockdown


Going grocery shopping now requires detailed planning so that enough food is purchased to last the family for a longer period of time. — YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

One of the seemingly routine things in life that the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns have totally transformed is grocery shopping.

Buying food essentials was once a matter of popping into the nearest supermarket, wet market or sundry shop and getting whatever you needed. There were no time limits – self-imposed or otherwise – and everything could be purchased at leisure. You could even shop for fresh produce every day if you liked. But those halcyon days of unlimited grocery shopping freedom are temporarily on hold, as Malaysians come to grips with the reality of the pandemic.

These days, in line with the current lockdown and high Covid-19 figures, locals have been advised to either buy their food essentials online or plan their grocery shopping trips well and stock up on food to last for a longer period of time, rather than risk unnecessary trips to the supermarket.

Many people seem to have taken this advice to heart. Team manager Ezrin Nik Ismail for instance, only goes to the supermarket once a week now and buys all her seafood online.

“I still prefer going to the supermarket, because for me, when I go to the store, I will be like ‘OMG, I need this!’ Sometimes on online platforms, I cannot think of what I need. So I go to the supermarket once a week early in the morning when it’s very quiet and buy a lot of things for the week, ” she says.

Once upon a time, you could spend as long as you like in supermarkets choosing products and wandering through the aisles, but these days, most shoppers prefer to buy all their food essentials as quickly as possible. — ANNA TARAZEVICH/PexelsOnce upon a time, you could spend as long as you like in supermarkets choosing products and wandering through the aisles, but these days, most shoppers prefer to buy all their food essentials as quickly as possible. — ANNA TARAZEVICH/Pexels

While Ezrin now totally avoids wet markets, given the fears associated with the Covid-19 clusters that emerged from some markets last year, others still find that produce is freshest in wet markets.

“I go to the wet market once a week around 6am because I can get very fresh meat and seafood and it’s not crowded, ” says stay-at-home mum Theresa Choo.

Choo also buys other food essentials from her neighbourhood supermarket but is careful not to shop for too long.

“If I go to the supermarket, I will go at times when I think the crowds won’t be there and even then, I do a very quick grocery run. It’s not like in the past when you can linger and wander along the aisles, now I have a list and just grab ingredients and dash home within 30 minutes!” says Choo.

Stay-at-home-mum Valerie Michael meanwhile only goes to the supermarket every two weeks or so and plans all her meals based on what she has purchased.

“I only have one freezer so I cannot stock up much, but I plan my meals after going to the supermarket. So I don’t cook a lot of food at every meal, I try and stretch all the ingredients. If I do cook more, I freeze the extra meals, so that if I run out of food, I have back-up meals in the freezer.

“For emergencies, I also have a sundry shop in my condo where I can buy a small selection of veggies and other items, so I sometimes shop there to limit unnecessary visits to the supermarket, ” she says.

Valerie combines this with online grocery sites, which she uses to buy milk for her children as well as spices and cooking sauces.

Many families are now opting to combine their physical grocery shopping with online shopping. — KINDEL MEDIA/PexelsMany families are now opting to combine their physical grocery shopping with online shopping. — KINDEL MEDIA/Pexels

Tuition teacher Amrawati Narayanan meanwhile typically stocks up on two weeks’ worth of groceries every time she goes to the supermarket. And even going to the supermarket is a carefully calculated affair these days.

“I really try to avoid going out and doing physical shopping. Sometimes even when I need to go the supermarket, I drive past first to see if it is crowded. If I see that there are a lot of people inside, I won’t go in, ” she says.

To combat running out of ingredients, Amrawati has come up with a unique barter system with a vegetable seller who happens to be the mother of one of her tuition students.

“She sends fresh veggies to my home and I just counter the amount I owe her with the tuition payment, ” she says.

On top of that, Amrawati and her immediate neighbour have developed a routine where they buy fresh food and other ingredients for each other when they do their individual supermarket runs.

“I ask my neighbour if they anything and they do the same, so we buy food for each other. And what’s nice is we don’t even take money for these purchases, ” says Amrawati.

Property developer Raymond Ng meanwhile has opted to limit his supermarket excursions as much as possible in a bid to preserve the health and safety of the occupants of his house, namely his octogenarian grandparents and two young kids.

“I normally order chicken, pork and fish online once a week. When that is delivered, I sanitise everything first before storing it away. For vegetables, I buy a little extra as I have a few fridges. Then I plan what to cook for the week, working through leafy vegetables like spinach first before using up hardier vegetables like cabbage, ” he says.

Ng is very adamant about curtailing trips to the supermarket during this period as he wants to set an example for everyone else in his family.

“I don’t go out very often for grocery runs because I am responsible for the health and welfare of two elderly people and two young children. I take that responsibility very seriously.

“Also I feel that I can’t tell everyone to stay at home if I am constantly going to the supermarket or wet market. I have to look after my family and this means staying at home as much as humanly possible, ” he says.

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