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A love letter to Jungle Jim’s

I park my car in the back of a filled parking lot. 

As I make my way across the lot, I hear the sound of rushing water and clamoring monkeys. Ahead, I see the heads of giraffes, gorillas and elephants. The defunct monorail hangs overhead, and I wonder — was it always just a decoration, or did families before me enjoy a short ride in the small cars?

Finally, I walk through the automatic doors and am greeted by the one and only Swinging Campbell’s Soup Can. 

And that doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Jungle Jim’s International Market, in Fairfield, Ohio, is exactly what it says it is: an international market. What’s missing from the name are all the quirks inside that make it more than just a grocery store. 

Oxford is in the middle of nowhere, Ohio, and if you’ve lived here for any period of time, you know it can be pretty easy to run out of things to do around town. If you’re like me and only like the nightlife during the night (sorry darties), then Jungle Jim’s is a great place to spend a Saturday afternoon. 

I have a long-standing love of the store. Every year since I was a child, my family has gone to Jungle Jim’s around Christmastime to get the ingredients for a Colombian classic — hot chocolate with cheese (and bread for dipping). My dad is Colombian, so it’s a special treat to enjoy together around the Christmas tree. 

But of course, I can’t just walk to the Colombian aisle. Jungle Jim’s is a journey. 

First thing: I offer a little wave to the Campbell’s Soup can hanging from the ceiling. Then, I make my way over to the cheese department to get some Oaxaca, a Mexican melting cheese that’s perfect for hot chocolate. 

I usually skip the alcohol section, though they have a whole dedicated section AND separate checkout for alcohol, so I’d recommend it if that's your thing. By this point, even if I don’t have to go to the bathroom, I at least make a pitstop to marvel at its beauty (I won’t spoil the fun, but let’s just say a porta-potty in a store is unironically funny). 

Next comes the candy section, where you can peruse a multitude of classic and crazy candies, all while being serenaded by a large animatronic Elvis monkey. 

Right next door to this little concert stage is the bakery. This is the best section of the entire store. 

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So much bread. So many cakes. So many cookies. 

Heaven. 

Anyway, after I stop drooling and limit myself to one bakery item, which is usually a slice of the Jungle Jim’s-brand pumpkin roll, I go to the produce section. I usually skim this area because I’ve been there so many times, but on a first visit, I would recommend checking out all the exotic fruits and vegetables they offer. 

After this is the seafood department, which I also skip because I dislike the smell of fish. Though it is kind of like walking around a little aquarium (the fish are still alive). 

Finally, after the fish section, you can breach the truly international part of this international store. With aisles organized into countries and/or regions, this is where you can kill a whole day.

I can’t offer much tangible advice on how to navigate the lay of the land, but I will offer this: 

Take. Your. Time. And have fun! 

Most of the items on the shelves I can’t read. I am not fluent in any language except English, so when I am picking out ramen and cookies, I use context clues and hope for the best. This is the fun of the store — going with friends, buying an assortment of random foods and then going home and trying them. Or, as my boyfriend and I do, having mystery ramen nights for dinner (no, not all of them are winners).

While you’re walking around, don’t forget to take in your surroundings. There are obvious animatronics all over, including The General Mill’s and Jungle Jim’s “Cereal Bowl Band,” complete with the Trix Rabbit on Keyboard, the Lucky Charms Leprechaun on a four-leaf clover guitar and the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee on a honeycomb drum set. 

And that’s on top of the fact that they’re sitting on a gigantic boat named the S.S. Minnow. 

Yes, in the middle of the store. 

There are also tons of hidden gems around the store, like the Michael Jackson button (as I call it) that plays a new MJ song every time you hit it. Or the little movie theater, with a curtain and seats and sponsored by Kraft, that tells the origin story of Jungle Jim’s. 

By the time you’ve made it to the movie theater, you’re just about wrapping up a complete circle around the store, but there’s still plenty to explore. 

One of my favorite sections to browse is the, shall we say, unique drinks/pops. Some standouts include the line of dictator sodas (Stalinade, Nuclear Orange Bomb) and butter soda. There are also some more “normal” sodas, such as bubblegum and sour green apple. 

By this point, I am usually just about ready to leave. The only sections left are organic (not my vibe) and frozen. I usually check out the frozen aisles, but then I head for the checkout. 

I always end up spending more than I wanted, and I always leave with way more snacky things than I would like. But the joy I get from being in that store plus the memories I create each time I go are worth it. 

Whether you’re a new student looking for something to do, or you’re a senior cherishing your last year in Oxford, Jungle Jim’s is the place to go. 

Recommendations:

  • Jungle Jim’s pumpkin roll

  • Cacique brand Oaxaca cheese

  • Sol or Corona brand Colombian hot chocolate

  • Colombina brand Arequipe (dulce de leche)

  • La Fe brand obleas (spread Arequipe on one and add another to make a delicious sandwich!)

  • Ichiban brand ramen

  • Jaffa Cakes (UK cookie)

  • Icelandic brand water (the bottle is cool and the water is genuinely delicious)

@penml@miamioh.edu

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