Lacking 7-Eleven in Uzbekistan, the next best thing is our friendly neighborhood Гастроном. When we just need to grab a few things instead of making the pilgrimage to Korzinka, the Gastronom has exactly what we’re looking for. We find ourselves frequently stopping by for a few bags of milk here and there, stocking up our chocolate stash, or when we run out of water. The staff know us well, and the one cashier always uses my visit to practice his english. They all genuinely seem happy to see us.
As a distinct carryover from Soviet times, the phenomenon of the Gastronom will be pretty familiar to anyone living in a post-Soviet country. Instead of a comfortable layout conducive to browsing the aisles, the Gastronom is generally overstaffed, organized somewhat like a department store. Our local store is divided into sections, each with its own cashier. So we may want to buy a lightbulb, eggs, milk, and some cat food, but this requires four separate transactions, with four different cashiers, in a store about the size of a one bedroom apartment.
It really is amazing how many different продукты they manage to cram into these small neighborhood stores. They have cheese, meats, sausages, bread, eggs, milk, rice, flour, cereals, tea, and sweets. There’s a guy outside selling rotisserie chickens, and a lady inside manning a stall selling all sorts of toiletry items. Canned mushrooms? No problem. Kitty litter by the kilogram? You have a choice of two.
We found a highly sought after bottle of spicy Italian olive oil here once after looking for months in supermarkets with no success. We can even find the fancy toilet paper with the dissolving flushable rolls. A paynet machine comes and goes, and when it works we can pay our internet each month and top-up our mobile phones. The Gastronom really does have everything.
You’d expect to pay for convenience, but you’d be wrong. Prices at the Gastronom are about what you’d expect to pay at the supermarket, but higher than you’d find in the bazaar. Sure the atmosphere is decidedly no frills, and you might have to pay closer attention to expiration dates on certain products, but in a pinch, the Gastronom will get the job done.
They have the process of checking out down to a science. Maybe my items are already on the counter, but that babushka who has only a loaf of bread gets priority regardless. After-all, she’s been coming here since the Khrushchev days, and she doesn’t complain much.
No barcode scanning here. The friendly cashier tallies up my total on a calculator as he takes money from the person behind me almost automatically. Making change for three people at once, he hands me my purchases which I bag myself, smiles, and wishes me a good day. Another successful visit to the local Gastronom.