ST. LOUIS – We are in the midst of a pandemic. Perhaps you've heard about that.
One of the results of the pandemic is that people around the world are traveling much less than they did, and that Americans in particular aren't allowed into many other countries.
But children, at least, can still travel the world from the comfort of their own homes. They can travel the world through the magic of food.
Global Foods Market, in Kirkwood, Missouri, is one of the area's largest international grocery stores. It has recently released what it calls Cultural Exploration Kits, a way for children to learn about other countries by exploring the grocery store's aisles.
"With everything going on in the pandemic, we realized everyone's world has been turned upside down, especially for the kids," said Shayn Prapaisilp, vice president of the Global Foods family of brands.
"We were thinking a lot of kids accompany their parents to the grocery store, so we wondered what we could do to make them want to come," he said.
"We have all these foods from around the world – why not give them a scavenger hunt?"
Around the world in 9 aisles
When children come into the store, they can check into the courtesy desk, or just ask any employee, for a postcard listing foods to find in the store from one of five countries.
From China – aisle 9 – they can seek out oyster sauce, shiitake mushrooms, plum sauce, bok choy and bubble tea.
From Mexico – also aisle 9 – they will find tortillas, chipotle peppers, chayote squash, salsa verde and neon-colored Jarritos soda.
Jamaica – aisle 3 – offers plantain chips, yuca, Jamaican curry powder (it usually has allspice in it, and more turmeric than other curries), jerk seasoning and ginger soda.
From India – aisle 8 – they will look for Parle-G cookies (lightly sweet and humble in appearance, they are the most popular cookie brand in the world), mint chutney, jaggery (a hard sugar made from concentrated cane juice), Indian bitter melon and ghee.
Great Britain – aisle 5 – is where they will find HP sauce (a condiment), Walkers crisps (potato chips), PG Tips tea, Violet Crumble candy bars and Irn-Bru soda.
That last country prompts an inevitable question: Why feature British food when their cuisine is notoriously, um, perhaps less exciting than the food of some certain other countries?
"We have a great selection of chocolates from the United Kingdom. There is actually a fairly substantial group of folks from the United Kingdom, and they are very loyal to their chocolate," Prapaisilp said.
The children will not receive a prize for finding all the foods. The purpose of the Cultural Exploration Kits is purely educational, he said, "to give them extra enrichment."
The promotion is currently scheduled to end at the end of the year, but that might not be the end of the globetrotting program.
"If we see a lot of traction, I would like to introduce more and more countries at the beginning of next year," he said.
"If the program is successful, hopefully we'll be able to see maybe Sweden next time, or France or Germany."