My first realization of this took place on our very second day in German, when I visited Stuttgart's famous Markthalle (Market Hall). I wanted to compare it to a more practical version of San Francisco's Ferry Building Market, until I realized that our market was probably largely based on European markets! Stall after stall of high-quality meats, cheeses, produce, and speciality food products from all over the world. I was delighted to recognize familiar ingredients such as high-quality tortillas and habaneros, and excited to try some produce I'd never seen before, not even at the famous Berkeley Bowl. And truffles (the fungus, not the confection) for reasonable-ish prices! Totally a foodie's dream.
A week later I found the German equivalent of "Andronico's" or "Whole Foods" in the city center, where I found even more international products. While I don't regret my last-minute shopping spree at Richmond's Ranch 99 (A Chinese-American supermarket chain that carries a huge selection of products from all over Asia) I was relieved to see high quality Shoyu (soy sauce), Sriracha (a Thai chili sauce), Sambal Oleck, soba noodles, and other condiments and products I utilize on a regular basis.
There is also a large farmers' market in front of the Rathaus (City Hall) three times a week, which carries almost all the basic kinds of produce I'd see at the Grand Lake farmers' market in Oakland (winter veggies, herbs, eggs, chilis, olive oil, honey, wine, citrus and some other fruit) as well as a few new exciting varieties of European winter squashes. I did get the impression that some of the products came from a bit further away than a California farmers' market would have - I saw that some of the produce was from southern France, Italy, and Greece - but then again Californian markets often have produce from all the way across the state, so it's not that huge a difference for a half-hearted, wannabe localvore such as myself.
German grocery stores are relatively easy to navigate, and not dissimilar to American ones except they seem to be smaller than a typical supermarket, and have a much better bread, cheese and meat selection (they apparently take that stuff seriously here). Beer is incredibly cheap - a large bottle of any local brew is usually under 1 Euro, although the catch is you can only get local beer, aside from a couple of nationwide brands like Becks, everything is either from Baden-Wurttenburg or Bavaria. Grocery stores sell underwear and socks.
All shops - literally, everything - are closed on Sunday. This lead to quite an adventure when we realized Sunday morning we were out the cat food we'd packed for our cat. I walked about a mile through the suburb of Moehringen looking for some store that would be open, to no avail. We finally went to the "Shoppette" on base, which had no cat food, but it did have packaged tuna, which apparently has made my cat quite happy.
Up next: Restaurants and wine in Germany - we might have a few annoying American complaints for this section, as I'm badly craving a glass of good California chardonnay and apparently that is NOT going to happen.