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Friday, December 29, 2006

Making the Rounds: Grocery Shopping

Making the Rounds

A: Grocery Shopping

After less than two months I feel that I am really starting to settle in to life in Spain. Local politics, football, and entertainment are all becoming less mysterious. I eat Spanish food. I drink Spanish wine, and in moderation, oddly enough—it’s the way here. I shop like they do: almost every day and in several different stores. Daily shopping is a ritual in Spain, as it is in many European countries. The architecture has been tailored to cater to the needs of the little two-wheeled shopping baskets that the Spanish drag around on their daily pilgrimage. Places that are still waiting for wheelchair access already have the steeper little ramps that accommodate these carts.

For the odds and ends you go to the chain grocery stores, which in my case is the Mercadona across the street from my building, and when I say “across the street” I mean that it is about twenty steps away (see the photo on left). There is another large, chain grocery store on the next block. I haven’t been in that one yet because it is too far away. OK, I’ll get off my lazy ass and go check it out right now.

It’s called Caprabo and I don’t like it very much and not just because there is an easy anagram in there for crap. It is in the middle of the next block which is just too far for me, and get this, you can’t enter through the Pol y Peyrolón side, which is my street. You have to walk around the block to the Avenida Cardenal Benlloch to enter. At my Mercadona you can enter through both sides. What the hell? Am I supposed to go on some kind of walk-about every time I need a bottle of wine?

What cracks me up about these chain outlets is that they all have garage parking for their customers. I don’t see how anyone in Valencia, and certainly not in my neighborhood, could live more than about three blocks away from the store that they would ever need to drive.

My Mercadona has a butcher and fresh seafood counter. There is also a lot of prepackaged meat and seafood. I like that you can buy a whole rabbit or a pig’s head. I have spent most of my adult life living near the sea; I have spent a lot of time swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving; yet there are a lot of terrifying creatures for sale in the seafood markets of Valencia that quite possibly could have changed my whole opinion about the deep. They have shrimp here as big as Jack Russell terriers and would scare the living shit out of me if I ever were to come face-to-face with one underwater (Do shrimp have faces?).

Because Spanish people like to eat Spanish food you can get prepared items like tortillas (the Spanish variety made with eggs) and a lot of the other items that you will see at a typical tapas bar. I like the little croquetas that you deep fry. These are little breaded balls of pork, chicken, or cheese. They have frozen packets of vegetables for making paella. They have prepackaged fresh vegetable medleys for making soups. All of the fruits and vegetables here are packaged and priced, not bulk like in American markets. I don’t buy fruits and vegetables here, however.

The Mercadona (or at whatever chain store where you choose to shop) is a good place to buy rice, oil, dried beans, spices, beer, wine, detergent, paper products, milk, and cheese. These places have the lowest prices on all of these items.

For vegetables and fruit you go to a verduraría, or green grocer. For bread there are several bakeries in my neighborhood. I tend to frequent the places where people made an effort to be nice to me—and this is really most places. I am slowly making my way through all of the different bread choices at my bakery. I buy pastries there just to be polite.

There are several meat markets in my neighborhood. I bought a beautiful whole chicken that I baked last night. From the looks of its wonderful yellow skin, I would bet that my chicken was walking around as free as a bird no later than yesterday.

For olives I have to walk a few blocks over to the Mercat d’Algirós; you can’t get good olives at the grocery store. I am partial to the cracked olives and the big gordales variety. It’s well worth the short walk and I love any excuse to go to the market located on the little Plaza San Felipe Neri. I will stop for a coffee at the sunny little café across the street before I wade into the crowded market. The woman at the olive stall will let me sample as many olives as I want—more than I want usually. I always buy quite a lot of olives and it never seems to be enough. I have to go to the Mercat d’Algirós again this morning.

I think that I have mentioned this place before but I have another stop on my rounds for provisions. There is a Pakistani grocery store that I think is networked into the whole Pakistani mafia here. The Pakistanis seem to have cornered the internet/phone service kiosks that are in every neighborhood, much like the Chinese have a monopoly on those crazy mini Wal-Mart stores. I go to the Pakistani grocery for dried beans and exotic spices. I bought some hot chili powder and after I opened it the first time it made the entire apartment smell like a spicy curry dish. I had to buy an airtight plastic container for the remainder.

I guess that it goes without saying that I have been cooking a lot. I won’t bore you with listing everything I have cooked this week but I’ll describe my breakfast this morning. I made a tortilla yesterday which is the Spanish variety made with potatoes and eggs. I made a sandwich (bocadito) of this on fresh French bread and drizzled with my infused oil. I will leave you with this easy recipe.

Mediterranean Oil

2 cups olive oil (mine tastes really green and almost sweet)
2 tbl sp minced garlic
2 tbl sp grated parmesan cheese
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
Pinch of oregano
Salt and pepper
A couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary (It grows everywhere here, just like in Seattle.)

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