A love letter to Jungle Jim’s

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

As I cross the grounds, I hear the sound of rushing water and screaming monkeys. In front of me, I see heads of giraffes, gorillas and elephants. The old monorail hangs above our heads, and I wonder: was it always just a decoration, or did the 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 can of Swinging Campbell’s soup.

And it doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Jungle Jim’s International Market in Fairfield, Ohio is exactly what it says: 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 a while, you know it can be quite easy to run out of things to do in town. If you’re like me and only like nightlife during the night (sorry dartties), then Jungle Jim’s is a great place to spend a Saturday afternoon.

I have a long-standing love for the store. Every year since I was a kid, my family goes to Jungle Jim’s around Christmas to get the ingredients for a Colombian classic – hot chocolate with cheese (and bread for dipping). My father is Colombian, so it’s a treat to enjoy together around the Christmas tree.

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

First thing: I give a little wave to the Campbell’s soup can hanging from the ceiling. Then I head to the cheese aisle to buy some Oaxaca, a melty Mexican cheese perfect for hot chocolate.

I usually skip the alcohol section, although they do have an entirely dedicated section AND a separate cashier for alcohol, so I’d recommend it if that’s your thing. At this point, even if I don’t need to go to the bathroom, I at least make a stop to marvel at its beauty (I won’t spoil the fun, but let’s just say a porta-potty in a store is ironically funny).

Next is the candy section, where you can browse through a slew of classic and crazy candies, while being serenaded by an animatronic big ape Elvis.

Right next to this small concert stage is the bakery. This is the best section of the whole 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 baked good, which is usually a slice of Jungle Jim brand pumpkin roll, I go to the produce section. I usually fly over this area because I have been there so many times, but on a first visit I would recommend checking out all the exotic fruits and vegetables they offer.

Next is the seafood department, which I also skip because I don’t like the smell of fish. Although it’s a bit like walking through a small aquarium (the fish are still alive).

Finally, after the fish section, you can break into the truly international part of this international store. With lanes organized by country and/or region, this is where you can kill an entire day.

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

Take. Your. Time. Have fun!

I can’t read most of the items on the shelves. I’m not fluent in any language except English, so when choosing ramen and cookies, I use contextual cues and hope for the best. It’s the fun of the store – go with friends, buy a random assortment of foods, then come home and try them. Or, like my boyfriend and I, have mysterious ramen nights for dinner (no, not all of them are winners).

As you walk, remember to soak up your surroundings. There are obvious animatronics throughout, including The General Mill and Jungle Jim’s “Cereal Bowl Band”, featuring the Trix Rabbit on keyboard, the Lucky Charms Leprechaun on a four-leaf clover guitar, and the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee on a honeycomb battery.

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

Yes, in the middle of the store.

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

By the time you’ve arrived at the cinema, you’re about to come full 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/soft drinks. Some standouts include the Dictator line of sodas (Stalinade, Nuclear Orange Bomb) and Butter Soda. There are also more “normal” sodas, such as chewing gum and tart green apple.

At this point, I’m usually almost ready to go. The only sections left are organic (not my vibe) and frozen. I usually check the frozen aisles, but then I head to the checkout.

I always end up spending more than I wanted to and always come away with way more snacks than I would like. But the joy I feel from being in this store and the memories I create every time I go there are worth it.

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

Recommendations:

  • Jungle Jim Pumpkin Roll

  • Cacique brand Oaxaca cheese

  • Sol or Corona brand Colombian hot chocolate

  • Colombina Arequipe brand (dulce de leche)

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

  • Ichiban brand ramen

  • Jaffa Cakes (British cookie)

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

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