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What The Ethnic Supermarket Taught Me About Culture

As an avid daydreamer, I often think about moments from my childhood. Like most other second-generation Nigerians, food is something I cite as essential in my upbringing and was a gateway for me in interacting with my culture. In my household, the head of the kitchen was undoubtedly my Mum. My siblings and I spent years witnessing her throwing together various recipes and creations, but one thing I had always noticed was her love of food shopping, maybe even more than the cooking itself.

Visiting the cash and carry or “ethnic” supermarket was vital for our food growing up, and trips had to be made without fail. A staple of cities with developed immigrant communities across the country, supermarkets categorised as “ethnic” generally sell a range of foods and ingredients used in immigrant or non-white cuisines, with “ethnic” being a rather lazy and shorthand descriptor for what they offer. Growing up in a strikingly white area of the North-West, my parents would have to drive to adjacent towns to find them, often travelling to Manchester, Liverpool and Preston. Still, I rather enjoyed the visits and was genuinely excited come the hour-long car rides. I spent most trips running through winding aisles, peering at peculiar offerings like giant leaves of aloe vera, ripe green soursop and bulging sacks of gari powder, making sure to avoid the meat counter as the smell would throw me off. Whilst being comfortably knowledgeable about my own race and other ethnic minorities, I enjoyed seeing a diverse patronage that I wasn’t often around, all being able to get what they needed. To me, every trip was a bit of an adventure, albeit a rather tame one in hindsight.