We had an enlightening shopping experience the other day on a quick turn through the aisles of AutoMercado, one of the large supermarket chains in Costa Rica that caters to the tastes of expats. We had taken the bus into San Jose, disembarking at Hospital Mexico, just outside of the city. From there we taxied a rather short distance (about a $2.00 cab ride) to Plaza Mayor, a mall where Layne and I have our eyeglass prescriptions filled. After picking up his new glasses, we headed to AutoMercado where we had recently found tomatillos available at a very good price, only about 1000 colones ($2.00) for a good size plastic container with 12 to 15 of the little green globes. I love this piquant tomato-like vegetable; it's a principle ingredient in Chili Verde, one of my specialties, and is delicious in Roasted Tomatillo Salsa. Oddly, despite being a Latin American country, Costa Ricans are unfamiliar with tomatillos, an item ubiquitous in Mexican, Guatemalan and other Latin cuisine. After treating our Santa Eulalia gang to a pot of Chili Verde last Saturday night, I wanted more, this time to freeze for a future dinner.
Also on my shopping list were pine nuts, another delicacy that is difficult to find here. We had looked all over Atenas with no luck but I suspected that AutoMercado just might have them. And indeed, as we cruised the aisle of nuts, I spied some small packages of pine nuts. Without a glance at the price since the bags were so modest, we headed to the checkout. On this particular trip, the lines we chose were so slow and we were in enough of a hurry to catch the bus back to Atenas that when we finally got to a cashier, we quickly paid our 10,000+ colones and headed for the bus stop across the street.
While waiting for the bus, however, I began to think about the purchase. 10,000 colones?? My goodness, that's about $20! How could two containers of tomatillos and two small bags of pine nuts have cost that much? I pulled out my receipt and discovered that the pine nuts were about $8.50 per bag! Back we went to the store and in my broken Spanish I explained to the woman at the Recepción booth that I wished to return the pine nuts. She was muy tranquilo about the whole thing, ringing up a refund receipt, which I took back to the cashier for a refund.
Lesson learned: Imports are expensive here. Read all price tags.