“Anything to declare?” A Canada Customs agent casts a sidelong glance into the backseat of our car heading home to Montreal from Vermont. “Tobacco or alcohol of any kind?”
Is he kidding? Who needs smokes and booze when I can buy kosher peanut cluster-buster cereal?
“How long have you been in the United States?”
About four hours, sir, as long as it takes to fill up two big shopping carts with kosher products that stretch not just the imagination but my food dollar too. Between in-store promos, coupons and ‘buy one, get one free’, it’s like America is paying me, a Canuck, to grocery shop.
My husband and I declare our booty and its dollar value; the Customs guy needs proof. We hand over a cash register tape, three feet of reading material.
Most folks, when the cupboard gets bare, grab the car keys and drive 10 minutes to a supermarket; when we get depleted, it’s time for a cross-border shopping run, a 75-minute ride flanked by rolling farmland outside Montreal and chiselled rock of our nearest U.S. neighbor, Vermont.
Even in a small town without a synagogue, like St. Albans, VT, an American supermarket is the kosher consumer’s Disneyland. Whether brands are national or in-house, the range of kosher runs wide and deep, adding indispensable variety to my pantry.
To set the record straight: the kosher kitchen in Canada isn’t suffering; lots of products are available, domestic and imported. But America is about more, bigger, better. More innovative, bigger selection, better prices.
We first got into this shopping habit as my kitchen tilted increasingly vegetarian in the 1990s; living in Toronto then, it was a not-so-short hop over Niagara Falls to Buffalo, New York. When we moved to Montreal we continued the tradition, only in Vermont, with the enthusiasm of Christopher Columbus.
“There’s a lot of different brands either not available (in Canada) or are kosher just in the U.S.,” notes Ellaine Feferman, who lives outside Toronto and regularly shops at supermarkets in New York state. She even has a request from a friend to pick up Seeds of Change kosher curry sauce on her next trip.
Sauces like this are a boon to cooks, especially in vegetarian meals. That’s why my pantry relies on the variety of kosher stock on U.S. shelves. I’m not looking for packaged shortcuts but building blocks of meals (seitan shredded into a vegetable stir fry and King Arthur Flour). And I need players that add depth and flavor, like Wholly Wholesome’s Organic Whole Wheat Pie Shells and Cabot Kosher Sharp Cheddar. (This Vermont cheese company does an annual OU cheddar run for Passover, and bars of this delicious, intense cheddar are available by mail order).
But there’s another side to cross-border food shopping: Good nosheri. I’m still marvelling at the little chocolate/caramel footballs punting in Edy’s (Limited Edition) Touchdown Sundae ice cream. Only in America.