An ode to Trader Joe’s

Writer+Aileen+Xue+holds+up+a+bag+from+Trader+Joes.

Mei

Writer Aileen Xue holds up a bag from Trader Joes.

Aileen Xue

I’m going to be blunt here: I love Trader Joe’s. From strolling along the aisles searching for coconut aminos or receiving amused chuckles from workers as my friends and I conducted part two of our prom photoshoot in the skincare and cereal aisles, there’s no other grocery store I’d rather call my second home.

Until I was seven, my parents were religious 99 Ranch Market shoppers. Too young to stay home alone, I was always dragged to their weekly grocery shopping outings. Sitting cross-legged in the corner of the cart, I would watch as they filled bags with bundles of leafy greens and deep red slabs of meat as I wrinkled my nose at the lingering stench of fish and five spice powder. However, as much as I enjoyed inspecting the heaping crates of pomelo and taking full advantage of the complimentary jelly fruit cups at checkout, I never felt quite at ease in the crowded aisles or with fish heads staring back at me in the back corner of the market. Sorry, 99 Ranch. 

One night, out of sheer desperation for some eggs to pair with Mom’s tomato dish, Dad and I headed to the nearest grocery store, which just happened to be Trader Joe’s.

As soon as we entered the store, our original task was forgotten. After sampling a green juice blend and pesto-chicken rolls, we wandered around the store ogling the assortment of fresh produce and healthy treats. Surrounded by colorful displays and the sweet scent of rich baked goods and ripe peaches, I knew that grocery shopping in our household would never be the same. 

Now — after more than 10 years of weekly Trader Joe’s runs — I’m what some might call a Trader Joe’s connoisseur. I keep up with the store’s new releases through Instagram accounts such as @traderjoeslist and @traderjolene and try to watch all the Trader Joe’s haul videos I can. While I do occasionally miss the weekly bulky packages of Prince Noodles and rice crackers that can only be found at 99 Ranch, there’s nothing like the taste of TJ’s seasonal Jingle Jangle ice cream or soft and juicy mandarins to make me appreciate the genius of Joe Coulombe himself. 

But, to me, Trader Joe’s is more than just a store where I can stock up on delectable goods. More importantly, it’s also where family time was redefined. 

Even with our increasingly busy schedules, Saturday morning Trader Joe’s runs are, and will always be, a constant. After hundreds of trips, we’ve perfected our system. The night before, we create an extensive shopping list with three main categories: the essentials (packages of cut butternut squash and brussel sprouts for healthy dinners); the guilty pleasures (organic popcorn with olive oil for family movie nights); and the project, a recipe we find on the Trader Joe’s website that we attempt to make during Sunday afternoon.   

The next day, we all pile into Dad’s minivan, TJ’s reusable shopping bags in hand, ready to complete our haul. Even after marking off all the groceries on our list, the trip isn’t completed until we’ve exhausted the assortment of samples and my brother and I are getting scolded for tossing in random goods that caught our eye. 

As I prepare to head to college, there’s nothing I’ll miss more than my family’s weekly grocery hauls. So, to Trader Joe’s, who has always been by my side, this one goes out to you: 

When I first met you in grade three, I never imagined you’d become so important to me.

While it may be the end of an era, there’s no one else I’d rather come to to buy marinara. 

From someone you’ll always inspire, I’ll always look forward to reading Fearless Flyers. 

This column is over and my tears have run dry, so from your biggest fan, I’ll miss you but this for sure isn’t goodbye.