My fantasy, covered in cheese dust

By Charlie Shifelett Updated: 2007-08-08 14:35:57

Nearly every time I enter a neighborhood grocery store and pick up a shopping basket, I regret deciding again to cobble together a meal on my own. As quickly as possible, I weave in and out of the labyrinth of shelves and freezers, careful not to disturb animals hanging from hooks and shop staff staring off into space.

It's true, of course: A man's got to eat. But that doesn't mean a man also has to wait in long lines and beg cashiers for double bags. Yet I continue to return to these neighborhood grocery stores again and again for my usual evening entrees: Oreo cookies, Ritz crackers, Dove chocolates, cantaloupe flavored chewing gum, kettle-cooked potato chips and pineapple ice pops.

As it turns out, these items usually make up the bulk of my grocery purchases. Eaten together - though not all at the same time, of course - these courses make for a perfectly unbalanced meal that can only be prepared in so many ways.

About six months ago, however, I discovered another new addition to my evening menu. There, sitting on the bottom shelf of the potato chip aisle were bags of Doritos, triangular corn chips sprayed with enough nacho-cheese flavored dust to give you orange fingerprints all day long (or until you lick your fingers clean).

I couldn't believe my eyes. Sure, I'd seen them in import grocery stores - but at 40 yuan ($5.30) a bag. These were 7 ($1). Suddenly, all of the uncomfortable visits to the grocery store seem to have paid off: I'd discovered a true treasure. Saying a prayer of blessing for the enterprising individual who'd brought them to mainstream China (and still not quite believing what I'd found), I filled my plastic basket with as many of the bags I could carry - about 12.

The shop girls standing in the aisle smiled at the dumb-looking foreigner filling his basket like a greedy miser and I, laden with corn chips, made for the checkout lanes. Perhaps I feared that something could still keep me from the heaven I'd experience after I returned to my apartment and sat down for my balanced meal of Doritos. (I had no room for other groceries that day.)

Over the next few months, however, I gradually ate the store out of its supply of Doritos. Eventually, only the small bags of nacho-cheese flavored Doritos remained. I still bought them, but I had to fight off of my Doritos addiction and go back to my old supper menu: Ritz, Oreos and pineapple ice pops - and, on special occasions, Dove chocolates.

Just the other day, however, a friend told me she'd seen Doritos at another grocery store and proceeded to take me there.

"Now, I could just be mistaken. Maybe it was another kind of chip," she said upon entering the store, suddenly lacking in confidence and throwing my world into despair.

But, sure enough, there they were - large, shiny red bags of Doritos for 2 yuan ($0.30) less than I'd paid previously. Needless to say, my addiction has returned - at least until the next Doritos shortage in northeast Beijing.

(China Daily 08/08/2007 page20)

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