Can I have some more gruel, please?

by hexacoto

You know you’re falling on hard times when you start rationing even cabbage, and cutting out a 1/16 part of it for lunch.

Grocery shopping has become challenge as I start to cut out on things that were once deemed nice to have, but are now crossed out out of necessity. I have always been a frugal shopper, but lately I have had to extend how long groceries last in my fridge, thereby reducing the frequency with which I have to go grocery shopping. I now have to try to make two weeks’ worth of groceries last three.

I have resisted the temptation to live on a diet of processed food, even though they are probably cheaper. It’s depressing enough that I don’t have a lot of money, I shouldn’t have to suffer the idea of eating sub-par frozen dinners and the such. Besides, eating unhealthily might eventually lead to health complications that might end up costing me more. A friend who is similarly unemployed tells me that on certain sale days, frozen dinners can cost as little as $1 each, but having never grown up in a culture of microwaving meals as a norm, that idea did not sit well with me.

On average, I manage to rack up about $25 on Asian groceries and about $35 for Western groceries each trip. This $60 usually sufficiently provides me two meals every day, for about two weeks, making it a cost of $4.30 a meal a day, which isn’t bad at all. This $60 now has to last me three weeks.

The following chronicles how my diet has changed in this time of rationing.



The above are two of the cheapest noodles available in the Asian and Western supermarkets I go to.  The Chinese egg noodles on the left cost about 80 cents (the supermarket doesn’t tax!) and the capellini pasta costs about 88 cents before tax. While it seems like the pasta costs only a paltry eight cents more, too little to make a difference, the number of servings I can prepare before I finish each box is hugely different. These noodles are all the carbs that I buy.

I wonder why I always end up using finishing the box of pasta faster than the Asian noodles. I usually finish using the box of pasta after 4-5 meals, whereas the Asian noodles lasts me about 5-6 meals. This is odd because by weight, the pasta is a full pound while the Asian noodles are about 14 ounces. Maybe because the Asian noodles are in cakes and makes it easier to divvy up (one is usually enough, two if you’re really hungry) whereas I usually just eyeball how much pasta to use.

I have also stopped buying bread or pitas or tortillas.



I used to have protein from meat at least one meal a day, or once every two days if I felt like having less meat in my diet. Now, my source of protein comes primarily from eggs, and occasionally I’d be able to have some pork, perhaps twice a week. The one-pound round of pork butt which I made char siew out of in a previous post has been made to last me two to three weeks, by strategically cutting off what I need and freezing the rest.

I have also been substituting meat with tofu, because a pound of it is about a dollar.



This is the above-mentioned 1/16 of a head of cabbage, which I have been painstakingly rationing, since they’re one of the hardiest vegetables to keep in the fridge. Even though a pound of carrots is $1 each, I also have a bag of frozen carrots and peas. However, I reserve the fresh carrots for making stew, and use the frozen ones in pasta and rice dishes. I have stopped buying bell peppers and fresh herbs such as basil, rosemary and thyme.

I love mushrooms, but they’re impossible to keep for extended periods without turning mushy.



Chocolate has been struck off of the list. Today, my friend was kind enough to give me a slab because it was too bitter for her. Thanks goodness I love bitter chocolate.

However, I have been snacking on spoonfuls of peanut butter instead; peanut butter that I bought a long time ago but ran out of bread on which to spread.

I have also been drinking copious amounts of Milo because it tastes so chocolatey.



I used to have flavour bouillons and stock pastes, but ever since I ran out, I’ve been relying on using shallots, onions, garlic and scallions as a replacement. These vegetables are rich in umami, and when burnt in a pot or pan, release a lot of flavour. Buying scallions from Chinatown has been a steal for me, since in Chinatown they’re usually two or three bunches for $1 (approximately 5-6 stalks per bunch!) whereas it might be as expensive as $1 a bunch in Western supermarkets. It’s also $1 for a rope of garlic and a dollar-something for a bag of shallots. Scallions last only about three weeks before they yellow, but onions, shallots and garlic stay good for a really long time, about a month or so.