A bag full of happiness

Fare lo spese – to do the shopping

I thought we had escaped jet lag, but it caught up to us at 3 am. We got to bed at around 11 pm and we both woke up at 3:00. We were awake for about 3 hours, and then fell back asleep at dawn, when the garbage trucks started making lots of noise. Go figure. We slept another 5 hours. That should do us for awhile.

One of today’s big adventures was going to do the grocery shopping. (The other was a protest rally that passed underneath our apartment window, but that will have to be another post.) I love foreign grocery stores. It allows you to see where each culture places emphasis in the food realm. After ample sleep and caffeination, we set off with fellow teacher, Diana Bennet, for the Esselunga Supermarket. It’s a sweet 3/4 mile walk from our house, mostly along the river. Of course, laden down with food on the walk home it was much, much longer.

Saturday afternoon at one of the largest markets in the area was a real slice of Italian life. Most everything is closed on Sundays, so on Saturday, Italians are doing their shopping for the big Sunday meal. Inexplicably, this was also the time that shelves were being stocked, so it made for tight maneuvering. I found that a smile and a “Scusi” got me a long way. I have been very brave about using my italian, imperfect as it is, and people seem to be understanding me! Yay!

We agreed on the walk over that we would stay aware of how heavy everything is and buy accordingly. But when you are confronted with a bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a lovely sounding wine from one of the most respected wine regions of Italy for only €5, it seems you must buy it. Ditto for the €2 bottle of everyday chianti.

The first aisle we encountered was produce. I promised myself I wouldn’t buy too much, but it was all so beautiful! I remembered to get my disposable plastic glove on before touching any produce. Heaven forbid you should fondle the tomatoes with your bare hands with an italian nonna nearby! I chose bananas, tomatoes, lettuce, and a little bag of mixed savories for making the ribolitta (celery, parsley, onion, and carrot). I also remembered to place each item in its own plastic bag, weigh it on the scale, choose the appropriately corresponding picture from the panel on the scale, and put the sticker on the bag. What will I do with all that plastic? There really is no way around it in Italy, at least not at the grocery store. I will pick up more fruit at the huge street market in Cascine Park on Tuesday.

Next was the staples of butter, eggs, milk, etc. Butter comes in a big block wrapped in waxed paper. Eggs come in packs of 6 or 10 with ridiculous amounts of plastic packaging. We selected 4 kinds of cheese including truffle cheese, gorgonzola, fresh mozzarella, and swiss. It took real self discipline to limit it to four kinds. We selected some orange juice with great trepidation, since we are used to the “not from concentrate” kind and this didn’t appear to be anything like that.

Then it was around the corner to the pasta aisle. Oh my! They devote 3/4 of an aisle to pasta of every shape and color, and that’s just the dried pasta. There is another whole section of fresh pasta. There are only about 8 aisles in the whole store, so that gives you some idea how much emphasis is placed on pasta.  It is even cheaper here than it is at home. I selected one dried pasta and one fresh, along with a jar of pesto for €1, and a small tub of truffle cream pasta sauce for €2.50. We got a big jar of sun-dried black olives for about €3. We stopped to marvel at the gallon of red table wine for €1.10. I found a couple of specialty items like soy sauce and worcestershire which were remarkably inexpensive. Our apartment came stocked with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, so I didn’t buy those this time around. It was difficult to pass up the good sized jar of red wine vinegar for €.50, but I did it. They’re not big on mustard,  mayonnaise or ketchup here – only one very tiny section for Americans, I think.

We also got some white beans for the ribollita stew, a jar of olive tapenade, and some jam. We couldn’t leave without a bottle of limoncello. I got the authentic stuff from Sorrento for €9.50/litre (about $12) and a 1 liter bottle of alcool purissimo (95% grain alcohol) for making my own limoncello. Our friend, Diana, got the cheap limoncello at my urging (€7($9)/litre) so we could do a taste comparison and see how we liked it. I almost bought a bottle of myrtle berry liqueur from Sardinia but decided we had enough bottles to carry this trip. We each selected some chocolate (with hazelnuts for George and with chile peppers for me) and some biscotti.

I worked out the italian words for conditioner and deodorant and toothpaste (well, the shape of the container helped, too.) What I wasn’t sure about was the small print on the deodorant bottle. One brand promised “effeto sedutionze” or “effeto energia” depending on the fragrance. I guessed that meant effective seduction or effective energy. We looked it up when we got home and as near as I can tell it means to bring about or make one seductive or make one energetic, so I was pretty close. In the end, I opted for a brand called Infasil (not sure what that’s about) in a scent called “doccia fresh” (doccia means shower).

On the way home George said that it was great watching Diana and I shop because we just had big smiles on our faces the whole time. As I tucked all my treasures into my backpack, I commented to my two companions that what we had in our possession was bags full of happiness. Tonight we will tuck in to some of our goodies and give thanks for this plentiful fare in a beautiful land that really loves its food.

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7 thoughts on “A bag full of happiness

  1. Oh my god, we are soooo verrrrry envious! I love your enthusiasm for discovering another culture …and for good food. (We’ve had computer problems, so we’re just now getting around to reading your blog. Writing this is a delightful gift to us. Thank you!)

    • Hi Ilene (and Everett). We’re so glad to see you here online. Writing the blog has been a lot of fun for us. I need to get another post out. It feels like we’ve already gotten behind. We were just saying today that writing is fun and a good way to remember, but we don’t want it to keep us from getting out there and doing stuff. George just had his first class today, so he will get increasingly busy, but I intend to keep at it. Thanks for leaving a note!

  2. It is interesting to see the food culture through the grocery store. How jealous I am of butter. I did not know how much I valued butter until it was gone. There are packages that say they are butter, and they most certainly are not. And cheese. My long lost cheese.

    The good news is that Gochang is mostly farm land, and so there is lots of fresh produce. Having worked at the farm, I knew right away what most of it was, even though it would be unusual in the states. There’s a Korean version of Napa Cabbage used for making Kimchi, and there is a huge stack of them in the produce section. Another large portion of the produce section is a variation of Daikon Radish called Korean Round.

    There is also a full aisle of Ramen (which Koreans insist you pronounce Lamyan to distinguish it from Japanese ramen, though it is honestly not different at all). There is also a full aisle of tinned tuna, with different flavors, including “mild” (which is the same as what you’d get in the states). I’m kind of disappointed to find that there is no such thing as fancy ramen. It is all of equal quality to TopRamen(TM), and even restaurants use individual packets of ramen when they make a ramen dish for you.

    • Fascinating. It was hard for us to do without dairy when we were in Bali, too. Most of the rest of the world doesn’t eat peanut butter, and I found that I didn’t miss it much. But butter and cheese were hard to do without. Do they have condiments other than kimchi? Like mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup? I was totally fascinated by the huge offerings of mayonnaise in Chile, but then almost no mustard.

      • They have mayo, mustard, and ketchup, and put WAY TOO MUCH mayo on certain “western” dishes, where they use the mayo to make the dish look fancy by drawing stripes or crosshatches.

        Peanut Butter is $7 for a small jar, so we didn’t buy it at first, but when we did, we discovered that it’s totally worth $7/jar.

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