Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Living in Italy: Grocery shopping

When I found out we were moving to Bologna, I fantasized about walking the streets on warm afternoons and stopping in at the latteria, the panetteria, the salumeria, a frutti e vedura vendolo, and perhaps the occasional pasticceria or pescheria. It seemed romantic to carry my groceries for the day home in my burlap bag. Mike pictured me shopping at the open-air markets on my bike and loading up the basket on the front with my shopping.

Well romantic it may be, but practical it is not. At least not for me right now. Maybe if I was an old lady without a nearly-10-month old strapped to my person at all times. The "big grocery store" here has many aisles that are too narrow for my stroller (or two people for that matter). So after a few trial runs with the stroller, I usually leave it home for my routine grocery shopping and take only Ada in the Baby Bjorn with just my wallet and the bags to carry my groceries home in.

Can packaging get much cuter here? Also, veggies almost exclusively come in bulk. No bagged carrots here.
I grocery shop about every other daywhen you realize you have to carry it all home in piedi it makes you less prone to over buy and more prone to go several times per week. It also makes sense that the goods are packaged in smaller quantities. The largest container of milk you can buy is a liter. Flour and sugar come in 1 kilogram bags. While you can buy eggs in cartons of 10 (notice, not a dozen), most people buy them in cartons of 6 or 4. We're lucky to live about 5 minutes away from a brand new Coop where I do most of my shopping.

It's beginning to feel a bit like Days Market (or Cheers) "where everybody knows your name." Only I don't know anyone's name. They all know Ada though and when we walk in I almost immediately hear, "Ciao! Patatina!! Come stai?! Sorridere per me? Ah! Che bella. Che bellisima! Tu sei una bambolauna bambolina! Una principessa!! Ciao amore!" It's friendly and makes me feel like I'm part of a community even though there is still a big language barrier.

Something I didn't realize for a few weeks was that you aren't supposed to touch the produce with your bare hands until after you buy it. The grocery stores provide you with plastic gloves to wear while picking out your fruit and veggies. At fruit stands, you don't pick up or touch what you want, you point and ask and the shop keeper gets everything for you.

Once every few weeks, Mikey and I trek outside the city walls to one of the discount grocery stores and stock up on basics like cheeses and pastas. The price of food drops significantly outside of the city center.

I also visit Mercato Delle Erbe about once per week where I get great prices on fresh produce. I'll often buy fresh bread or maybe fresh pasta while I'm there.

For the most part, food tastes similar to food back home. I remember Mikey and I had egg salad sandwiches one of our first days here and were really thrown off by how strikingly dark yellow the egg yolks are (Italians like the yolks darkthe yolks give pasta its yellow color). They also taste a bit different, but I can put my finger on what it is.

Butter comes wrapped in paper and secured with metal eyelets.
Italians eat lots of pasta and pizza. It's not just an Americanized restaurant chain thing. They also don't eat much meat, and if you succeed in finding a boneless, skinless chicken breast in the grocery store, you'll be paying out your nose for a small bit of it. Most meat comes on the bone with all the gristle and connective tissue and yummy still attached. And they eat all of it. (Roommate, you would die).

Fun fact: there are more pigs than people in Emilia-Romangna. It keeps a steady stream of prosciutto, pancetta, and various cured meats at the ready. Bologna is, after all, the birthplace of bologna. But not the Oscar Meyer kind.

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