For anyone who might be interested, I thought I'd put in a few words (well ... maybe more than just a few) about food shopping here in Buenos Aires.
To begin with ... it is not true that you can't find a lot of things from North America or Europe. If you know where to go you can buy anything that you want. It's the finding where it is that can be trying at times. So I'll start at the local level and go bigger and better as you read on.
There are an abundance of small local corner stores (or mid block stores) where you can shop locally for groceries. They sell the usual "in season" produce, basic canned goods, paper products & cleaning supplies (toilet tissue, kleenex, ... that sort of thing) and a few hardware items - batteries, plasticware, etc. The stores are usually operated by non-Argentines and are not particularly friendly or clean places to shop ... but they are certainly handy and you can't go a block without running into one. They are open at all times of the day and night, and every now and then you can find a real bargain price-wise or some very rare thing that you couldn't locate anywhere else. Prices reflect their convenience factor ... higher than many other types of stores.
Along with these "corner stores" there are quite a few small produce stores as well. They are run by local Argentines who have the connections with the outlying farms and they offer all manner of vegetables that you already know about and some you may not be familiar with. When you go to these places, most will not let you actually pick the item you want. You have to tell the server what you want .. and he/she will pick it out of the basket/barrel/box for you. In our experience, this means, along with the good stuff you may get a couple of whatever you asked for (carrots, onions, beans, etc) that are rotten or unripe or "buggy" .. and you end up throwing some away when you get home.
They do have the most wonderful "juice" oranges here that you'll find anywhere. They are sizeable and really sweet. A couple of fresh squeezed oranges will fill a glass and really set up your breakfast. During the day, if and when you go downtown, you can see street vendors with their little pushcarts that have a press mounted on the front and they sell plastic glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice to passers-by. 5 pesos ($1.25) buys a nice tall glass .. and in the middle of a hot afternoon, it's great.
Moving up a notch in the scheme of things, there are also a few "chain-stores" that are similar to the Max stores or 7/11 that you know about. SuperMercado and Maxi-Kiosco are two of the more well known names. They are similar to the "corner stores" I spoke of above, but most are clean, neat and tidy, well laid out and the service is better. They are a little pricier, but they too have the odd deal if you know what to look for.
Something to note. Every store ... from the corner store to the most expensive and largest brand name places (we'll get there) all have huge wine and liqour section. All stores sell booze over the counter ... no govt outlets here. And some of the wines (especially the Malbecs, Merlots and Cab/Sauv's from Mendoza region are really cheap but really good. Imported alcohol is outrageously expensive but liqour made in Argentina is cheap. A locally produced 750 ml bottle of Vodka is 19 pesos ($4.74) vs $23 in Vancouver, not to mention the $200 bottle of a decent single malt scotch ($60 in the liqour store in White Rock).
Now we come to full-fledged grocery stores. DISCO and COTO are a major names here in Argentina and they do a phenomenal business. The COTO we go to seems to be always very very busy. That is not hard to understand, as their prices are usually reasonable and they let you actually do the "touchy-feely" thing with the produce .... so you know you're not getting ripped off. They have yoghurt here that is really good as well, seems creamier than most I've had before, and one of those little containers (breakfast sized) costs about .50 cents. The only draw-back with any of these stores is that, on any given day, they may not have the one or two items that you really want. Inventory isn't a high priority and people just put up with the fact that the store may not have something today ... but maybe tomorrow ?? We'll have to see.
And now for the full-meal deal - the big box stores - JUMBO and EASY. You usually find them together, in the same big building, and it appears they are the combination of WalMart and Home Depot, on a slightly smaller scale. They are definitely not Costco. You can see from the photos the difference here from other stores.... and the prices reflect that change. We mentioned to an acquaintance one day that we had to get something at Jumbo and the reaction was "oh .. thats where the rich folks shop". Maybe so ... but they have virtually everything and their booze department makes any liqour store in Vancouver look like a poor cousin. EASY is the associated hardware store but not quite the same as a Home Depot. EASY doesn't sell a lot of what you'd expect. You can't buy a standard household extension cord for the living room .. or a kitchen knife sharpener. They will sell you a blow-up air mattress though, but they don't sell batteries for flashlights. Odd ?
We have made two discoveries since we've been down here. The first actually came from last years visit. We found a bodega under the train overpass near our place that has an amazing stock of deli style canned and packaged goods plus an equally amazing wine cellar. We buy our wine here. They offer all the major brands and some others that don't travel at well but are still marvellous. We've been buying a brand of Malbec called Atilo Avena. It costs 24 pesos a bottle and is excellent ... as good as some of the 40-50 peso wines. At this bodega the deal is .. if you buy 6 or more bottles you get 25% discount. That brings the price down to less than $5 a bottle. It would be very easy to become an alcoholic if you weren't careful.
We've also found a store in our local Chinatown that has the freshest fish you can imagine. Argentina doesn't have a sizeable fishing industry (no real continental shelf large enough where fish can live) so they import the fish for this store from Chile. The Pacific Salmon is wild and wonderful, and the prices are a bit higher than at home, but lower than most other places.
We have discovered that under certain circumstances, paying the higher price at JUMBO or COTO is worth it .. if only to reduce the frustration by not having to go to 6 stores to find 4 things you might need .. time is money and my time is important to me. I don't want to waste it hoofing it from place to place looking for something when I know where I can get it .. even if it is slightly more expensive. And knowing your prices is definitely mandatory. On any given day, the prices at every store will fluctuate and various items go on sale as loss-leaders. We've found some excellent price reductions simply because we know what we're looking for and how much it costs elsewhere.
COTO and JUMBO by the way offer home delivery for your groceries. Provided you buy more than about 150 pesos worth (+/- $40) you can have them deliver your bags to your house or apartment. The cost in most places is a mere 15 pesos ($4) but for really big loads, they charge more. How much bigger a load has to be I don't know but I have seen people in the line in front of me spend 700 - 800 pesos ($200) for two full shopping carts and the store charged them the same 15 pesos for delivery.
And a last comment about prices. Inflation here has been around 28% over the past year. Every time you to go into a store, things are more expensive. Prices change weekly. Generally speaking, you can find fairly good groceries for a fairly reasonable price .. some things are totally unreasonable. Fruit is quite a bit higher cost than in Vancouver. Some vegetables are a lot cheaper, and meat is usually a good buy as well. Bread products are right up there and dairy (milk, cream, cheese) is also a high cost item. Soap, toilette paper and kleenex are also all more expensive. Our best guess estimate is that it costs somewhere around 20 % more to do the grocery shopping here than in Canada.