When in Rome, buy sandals
Where can you find exotic and elusive enoki mushrooms for $3.99 a bunch? At an isolated Mediterranean greengrocer who does not specialise in Asian delicacies.
Where can you find the exact same variety of mushrooms, from the same grower, with the same use-by date, for just $2.20 a bunch? One suburb away, in a bustling Chinatown, at an Asian grocery store, surrounded by competition.
Interestingly, that same Asian grocery store was selling tinned tomatoes, an Italian staple, for $1.20 a can, whereas the Italian greengrocer had the same ones for 50 cents a can.
What's the message? Buying exotic goods from local suppliers can save you a small fortune. Because believe it or not, coconut milk isn't "exotic" to S.E. Asians, and bocconcini isn't "exotic" to Italians, and sushi seaweed isn't "exotic" to Japanese.
Finding a shop that's popular with locals of the same, ahem, ethnic background, means you know the produce is authentic, and with the high-turnover, it'll be fresher.
And it turns your weekly shopping expedition into a mini-holiday.
Here are some indicative savings buying the same brands of the same products, but one in a big generic supermarket, the other in a local specialty store:
ASIAN GOODS - Big supermarket vs. Asian grocer
100g dried shrimp: $5.40 vs. $3.20
10 sheets sushi seaweed: $2.99 vs. $2.00
Packet noodles: $1.20 vs. 70c
1/2 kilo fresh mangosteen: $10.99 vs. $7.00
Fish sauce: $1.80 vs. $1.20
Jar tamarind paste: $4.50 vs. $1.40
Lemongrass: $1.99 ea. vs. $1.00
Helping the little guy beat the big soulless supermarket chain: Priceless.
TOTAL:$28.87 - $16.50
With the $12.00 you saved, you can score a giant seafood laksa or a 10 minute neck message from those ubiquitous Chinese massage tables!
MEDITERRANEAN GOODS - Big supermarket vs. Con, the Fruiterer Barbarian.
Jar sliced Kalamata olives: $5.99 vs. $2.99
Big jar salted anchovies: $13.99 vs. $8.99
Goat's fetta cheese: $5.50 vs. $4.70
1kg Dried fava beans: $4.50 vs. $2.99
Premium-brand imported Italian pasta: $3.50 vs. $1.00
Wandering about in a fabulous-smelling continental deli with aromas of coffee, pancetta, pasta and cheese wafting about: Priceless
Total:$33.48 vs. $20.67
With the $12.50 you saved, treat yourself to a double espresso and canoli (or three).
It's worth getting to know your local stores, because they will surprise you with the range of treats they can offer. After a while, you'll find that the only things you'll buy from the big supermarkets are toilet paper and peanut butter, and anything that has a bit of personality will be cheaper and better quality from the little guys.
PS - Of course, Mr Bargain Queen is never tempted to blow all the money he saved on those delicious-looking red bean cakes from the Chinese bakery...