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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Variety Stores



Monday was some sort of religious holiday here in Valencia. Even to be culturally aware I can’t be bothered to pay any attention to religion so excuse me for not knowing or giving a shit about what the holiday was all about. The important thing to me is that a lot of my normal stores were closed. The good news is that there are a lot of other outlets in the neighborhood which also didn’t get the email about the Catholic holiday so they were open. I totally screwed up and didn’t buy much in the way of food before the long religious holiday began so by Monday I was down to a half a jar of Dijon mustard and a can of anchovies…and I was really hungry.

On my first stop I hit a Chinese grocery store. I am pretty familiar with these places as I did a lot of shopping at a huge pan-Asian store in Seattle. The little store in my neighborhood on Calle Puerto Rico has a decent selection of ingredients necessary for making a good Chinese-style meal. I say Chinese-style because I don’t really know how to make a proper Chinese dish, only American versions of them. I felt like I was coming down with a cold or something so my first priority was to get something really spicy. I bought an industrial-strength size bottle of sriracha sauce from Thailand—a good start for spicy food. Something I miss about Seattle are the ubiquitous Vietnamese restaurants where you can get a bowl of pho for a couple bucks. Pho was always my first line of defense against colds and flu. If I felt a bug coming on I would get a huge bowl of pho and then pollute it with so much sriracha sauce that no organism could possible live in the same vessel as this contaminated bowl of soup. No organism except me. I have the good fortune of having a porcelain toilet bowl instead of a stomach which means I can eat the hottest food known to man. Not only can I eat it but I crave it.

The guy at the Chinese grocery store was asking me if I had ever bought the stuff that I was buying. He was trying to warn me that it was spicy. Spanish people, for the most part, don’t eat much in the way of spicy stuff. I suppose that he has had his share of angry customers who complain after getting their guts burned out. I happen to enjoy getting my guts burned out and told him so. I also picked up a bunch of different kinds of rice noodles and a bag of black rice. Black rice is really good if you have never tried it before. It has a very nutty flavor.

The next stop was a little corner grocery store run by some Pakistani guys. These places are great for buying spices. They have a wonderful variety of hard-to-find stuff. They also have big bags of stuff that I use a lot, stuff like cumin and coriander seed. The little bottles you get at the supermarket don’t go very far in my kitchen. They also have amazing red chili, both in flakes and in powder form. Once again, they have big bags that are made to last. The chili powder is the best I have ever had and much spicier than what I normally get in the U.S. It is also about ten times cheaper here.

I recently came across a recipe for tortillitas, an eggless tortilla that is popular in Andalucía. For this recipe you need garbanzo bean flour which isn’t to be found in the Spanish grocery stores here in Valencia. This is also known as gram flour or besan as they call it in India and Pakistan and I found it at my next stop: a halal butcher shop. There are a lot of Muslim immigrants in my neighborhood and so there are quite a few of these halal butcher shops that cater to them. These places, whether they are run by Pakistanis or Moroccans, also have some interesting food items for sale besides the chicken, beef, and lamb. Next on my “to buy” list is a Moroccan tagine baking dish.

There is quite a lot of variety in my neighborhood when it comes to cooking. I have been making Indian-style dishes as well as Chinese-influenced stuff. This isn’t to say that I have given up on Spanish food. I have another cooking video to upload on how to make Arroz a la banda, a Valencia staple of rice with shrimp.