Subscriber OnlyPeople

Your week abroad hasn’t begun until you’ve taken in the beauty of the foreign crisps aisle

Emer McLysaght: Fancy Dunnes, Big Tesco, regional Supervalu, Mercadona – I love them all

I love supermarkets. As a child I went every Saturday to Superquinn with my mother, sometimes braving the legendary kids club but usually trailing around after her, accepting “tastes” of cubed cheese from sample ladies with big Mammy energy and begging for salted peanuts from the pic-n-mix.

To this day I love a Big Shop, both doing one and visiting one, while the thrill of encountering a new (to me) supermarket is unparalleled. Just last week I was blessed with a visit to a Waterford Supervalu whose threshold I had never crossed. I was on a work trip with my Complete Aisling co-author Sarah Breen and we had scant time to grab dinner before arriving at a library event.

“Fáilte”, read the giant sign outside the intriguingly titled “Hypercentre”. “It’s like being in France,” we gasped, thinking back to the cavernous hypermarchés we’ve enjoyed on the Continent. Once, on a camping trip near Nice, I found a forgotten French trolley token in a chariot à paniers. Reader, it was one of the best days of my life.

The Hypercentre Supervalu was, as Supervalus can be, a little overwhelming. Each store appears to operate on a principle of an abundance of artisan products, stand-alone displays of demented fizzy sweets and, depending on location and ownership, anything from children’s fishing nets to calf nuts.


I always say you can’t beat a fancy Supervalu. The one in Clonakilty is legendary, for instance. Dingle too is a sight to behold. Fancy Dunnes tends to be out of this world too. Sinking down the escalator into the bowels of the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre is almost an assault on the senses. Here a richness of hummus, there a display of handmade tapenade. And what of a Big Tesco? Endless aisles of electrical goods, toys and seasonal goods to rival any department store. During the Covid lockdowns I frequented the Big Tesco in Naas to procure groceries for my cocooning mother and I am not exaggerating when I say it was sometimes like going on holidays.

And my God, what is a holiday without a visit to the hypermarché or the local Mercadona? Has your week in Spain even begun before you’ve taken in the beauty of the foreign crisps aisle and marvelled at just how many boxes of wine you can buy for €10?

Last summer, two weeks in rural Portugal was punctuated with joyous trips to various Pingo Doce supermarkets. The children fell upon the bizarre confections in the ice-cream freezers, while the adults gawped at the fish counter like we’d never eyeballed a cod in our lives. We fell upon a deliciously air-conditioned Aldi like we were greeting an old friend, eager to see what differences it held compared to our Aldis at home.

Speaking of Aldi, such is the descent into middle age that when a new one opened recently in Dublin 7 my WhatsApp groups were alive with activity. There is nothing quite like bathing in the glow of a new Lidl or Aldi and those virgin centre aisles with their dizzying array of air fryers and Harry Potter merchandise.

On a recent trip to New York, I factored in time to visit at least one Trader Joes, the supermarket famed for its competitive prices and infamous staples. Have you even been to the States if you’re not toting home six canisters of Everything But the Bagel seasoning for various friends and family? As I clinked home through customs I was dearly hoping not to be randomly selected for my underwear and seasoning haul to be displayed for all the world to see. I visited Target too, needing some lip balm and I was assaulted with a whole wall of the stuff. Nothing brings you back down to Earth quite like witnessing US consumerism in all its glory.

We arrived too late at the Supervalu in Waterford to patronise its deli counter, but the salad bar glowed like an oasis in a fluorescent desert. We perused a display of sugar-free sauces, marvelled at the flavoured sparkling water selection, and ate our improvised dinner in the shadow of a giant picture of the city’s picturesque quay. I regaled Sarah with tales of the breathtaking Marks & Spencer at Liffey Valley – now complete with a sushi counter – and we discussed the recent revamp of her local Tesco and the etiquette of letting someone go in front of you if they only have one or two items. I look forward to seeing where our next adventure takes us.