Last weekend we decided it was time for a cheese run. On our first semester trip to Metro (the supermarket in Xian which has import foods) we were shocked and dismayed to discover they no longer had the large 6 kilo cheddar cheese blocks we had bought in the fall. The small, overpriced bits we bought before were almost gone. The future of our meals depended on finding more cheese.
We say that Xian is an hour away, but of course it’s not that simple. Actually, there is a 10 minute walk to the bus station, 15-20 minutes waiting around for a Xian bus (they leave whenever they are full), and 1 hour on the bus. Once we get into Xian, we pick up a city bus that takes us from the north-east corner of town to the far south where Metro is. We usually stop in the middle of the city for some Pizza Hut or Subway, such a nice treat, and sometimes stop again before Metro to stock up on some dvds. With no stops, it’s about an hour bus ride. With stops, well, it’s usually mid-afternoon when we arrive at Metro. Metro has two whole rows of imported goods. We stock up on the essentials like cereal, brownie mix, spaghetti noodles, and salsa. But when we headed over to the cheese section, there was still no cheddar. Just miniscule packets of Monterrey Jack, enough to last half a week. Fortunately, we had a plan B.
We had a business card for some kind of food wholesale place Christina knew about. Wes called and found out they had the cheddar we were looking for. The only problem was, we didn’t really know where it was. Christina had been there once and had a very vague memory of what it was like. We loaded up our purchases into backpacks and shopping bags and set out to find a taxi.
Metro is a horrible place for getting taxis. There are plenty of them – they just won’t stop for you. We spent 10 minutes flagging down and being rejected by dozens of taxis before crossing the road to spend another 10 minutes flagging down and being rejected by taxis from the other direction. Finally, we found someone who was actually serious about this taxi-driving business and agreed to take us.
The business card had an address but addresses aren’t always marked very well. Once we were on the right road, we all looked for any building numbers we could find. We finally found the right number, but it looked like a school gate, not a warehouse. The taxi driver kept on going for another block and a half before we finally convinced him we wanted to stop. We piled out and hiked back down the road, stopping several times to ask an old lady who couldn’t help us at all but was still very friendly.
When we got back to the right address, Wes peered inside the gate to ask the guard if we were in the right place. Strangely enough, we were. We walked along a small road lined with trees and aging apartment buildings. After turning several corners, the street noise receded. The air was quiet and filled with dandelion-type wisps that floated in and out of shadows. A cat sat on top of a brick wall in the sun, watching as we passed by. Colorful blankets were airing clothes lines. We looped our way around several buildings, past one or two people and five or six cats. This sure didn’t seem like the area for a wholesale warehouse, but the man we asked told us to keep going around one more corner. We turned the corner and reached a dead end.
On the right, an old red door, probably ten or twelve feet high, was cracked open. Christina peered inside to an empty, shaded courtyard. When Wes called out, a woman appeared at the doorway asking if we were the ones who had called. She led us inside, where we piled all our bags onto old, umbrella-covered restaurant style tables. I didn’t mind leaving it there – clearly there was no one around to steal it.
The owners of this out of the way place led us through several small store rooms filled with boxes of imported goods. We looked through boxes of pasta, large containers of spices, and huge cans of jalapeños. I was excited to find cream of mushroom soup – and I don’t even like mushrooms. But I am realizing this year how many recipes use cream soups and have been missing them. We went into a freezer room and found tortillas. Finally, we went into the fridge room. As promised, they had a number of large blocks of cheddar cheese, and for not a bad price – $4-5 per kilo.
We already had backpacks and bags full of items, but we pulled out new bags and added our purchases. It was quite a useful little back-alley shopping place. It will come in handy the next time we need cheese. If we can ever find it again.