Monday, March 5, 2007

Grocery Shopping in Italy

One of the first things I did the day after I arrived, was locate el supermercato (grocery store) to stock up on some staples. In the neighborhood, only 3 blocks away is Standa, a grocery chain in Italy. I walked down the street and into the market.

The store is simply laid out, but feels like a fine gourmet store, primarily due to the types of choices which are all foreign (imagine that), size (very small), and mostly all fresh foods.
The first thing I did, which is not unusual, is get a cart. Well, I tried to get a cart, but it was chained to the other carts, and costs 1 euro to obtain. As it turns out, it was a blessing that I did not have any single euros, and opted for the carry basket which was free. The blessing about it was that I had already forgotten that I had to carry whatever I bought back home and up the 50 steps, so having the carry basket was a good gauge of when to stop. Escaped a bullet there!
The store is arranged as many American stores are with a prepared food counter, a deli, fresh seafood, bakery, meat and poultry sections. These are small, but well stocked with what seemed like exotic foods to me, but are ordinary for Italy. In the prepared food section there are pate’s, veal cutlets, grilled vegetables, panini, etc. I had to bypass this section because as you would expect, it is expensive, and I am on a budget.

When I got to the deli section, I could hardly contain myself: all types of cheeses, pecorino, romano, gorgonzola, parmigiana, and at reasonable prices! Huge buckets of all types of olives! These are all my favorite things and definitely considered a staple in my home whether USA or Italy. It was difficult to determine the amount that I wanted due to my inability to convert in the metric system, but the lady behind the counter held up the different size containers for me to chose. The cheese, I indicated with my fingers the width that would be sufficient. If I were a meat eater, which I am not, the "cold cuts" looked fabulous enough to make be wish I were one, and consisted of salami, mortadena, prosciuto, bortadello, etc.

On to the produce. They have the smallest produce section I have ever seen in a grocery store! I do not know how to describe the quantities that were out. If you have ever been to a farmers market and seen the wooden crates that they use to bulk produce, that is what was used. There was usually just one of these per the type of produce. All of the produce was obviously fresh, and you are responsible for weighing and tagging your items in the department, before you get to the checkout. I bought onions, garlic, and tomatoes, bananas, and berries. On a side note-the tomatoes here, given that it is early March are fabulous. I can’t figure it out! They are from Italy, so must be the South, and they don’t have to be shipped very far. Tomatoes are one of my favorite things and I swear these rival the ones from my Dad’s backyard garden.

One of the most challenging sections was dairy. Thankfully, I had written my grocery list, and then for my own benefit and learning, translated most of the items into Italian. Even though I knew that Latte meant milk, I did not know which was whole milk or skimmed. I settle for parzialmente scremato, which turned out to be partially skimmed, but I don’t know how partial. Cream was another challenge, along with yogurt. Sliced cheese for sandwiches is non existent in a packaged form like Kraft Singles-that, I thought was a good thing, being the cheese snob that I am. No Velveeta, or processed cheese food for these folks!

Canned goods were minimal, although frozen vegetables were more abundant. The bakery held all of the wonderful breads, bread sticks and pastries that you can imagine.

Of course they sell wine in Italian grocery stores, and many other stores as well! Wine can be less expensive than water and sodas, and given all of these beverages are heavy to carry, I opted for the wine.

One thing that is currently a mystery is whether or not Italians use tissues. You know, Kleenex? Now I understand there might be another brand, but try as I might (and at this point, I have looked in several other types of stores where paper goods like toilet paper and napkins are sold) I cannot find tissues!

At the check out line (there were only 3, and they had about 10-20 people each in them) there were no "express lines" (not in Italy!) and 99% of the folks would qualify for the 12 item or less line anyway, due to the same issue around carrying their groceries home. When it was my turn, the cashier asked me if I had a Standa Carte. Of all the ridiculous American marketing things to copy, I now have a Standa Carte to get discounts when I purchase groceries at Standa! Bags at Standa cost money. Most everyone carries grocery bags with them at all times. This is not only cost saving, but another conservation effort. The cashiers sit down, (yes, literally, behind the counter on a stool) while the customer bags their own groceries. Very self service!

When I was there, it was so crowded that they ran out of the handheld baskets and people were standing in line at the counter waiting for people to empty their baskets so they could have it!
Going to the grocery will undoubtedly be a big part of my life. This is true for several reasons: 1. My refrigerator is the size you would have in a dorm room, 2. I have to carry my groceries home, 3 I am buying 95% fresh foods that will spoil if uneaten in a small amount of time, and 4. A bottle of wine only lasts 2 days at the most!

1 comment:

Amy Corbett said...

Karen, it's so fun reading about your experiences. I can't wait to come visit! Miss you already.