Sunday, May 26, 2013

Adventures in an Italian Grocery Store...

One of the things that really surprised me when we first moved here (and I meant to blog about a while ago) was the concept of the Italian grocery store. Now there are a few ''big'' grocery stores that would be similar to say 'discount store' like what we have in the states but no where near the same in size. Or in frequency. Where a town of 50,000 in the U.S. might have a Walmart or two, a Target and a won't find that here. At all.

There are a handful of "discount'' stores in Vicenza that sell groceries and have a small home-goods section with pots and pans, an area with laundry room/bathroom items, a small electronics section and maybe even a small clothing section. An aisle or two for toys and maybe a corner dedicated to outdoor gardening. Emisfero, Iper Simply, Auchan and EuroSpar would be those stores. And keep in mind Vicenza is a ''large'' city (795,123 was the population of the province in 2004). But rather than getting a vacuum at Emisfero, you would go to MediaWorld for a selection of more than two models. If you needed Tylenol, you're better off going to a Farmacia. They just don't do the ''one stop shopping'' like we're used to, in fact I would almost go so far to say that is the biggest difference between living in the states and living in Italy (aside from culture/history): convenience. There isn't a 24 hour grocery store. There aren't drive thru's (and I mean drive-thru anything...banks, restaurants, quick coffee stops, pharmacy...nothing). There is no such thing as a "Convenience store" just doesn't exist.

So while we do shop ''on the economy'' at our local little grocery store, it's about once a week/every 2 weeks. There are certain things we get every time we go: fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, breakfast pastries, hot food {lasagne} from the 'deli', Coca-Cola (made with real sugar, not HFCS), pasta and a few frozen foods/treats. But it isn't very convenient. First off, the parking lot is tiny and driving a minivan means parking a ways out. Secondly, in order to use a cart you have to have a .50cent piece or a €1 coin to get a cart (just like the quarter you need to shop at Aldi) which I seem to have €20 in change when I don't need it and only american change when I do. Third, their hours can be...wonky. They are closed on Tuesday, they are only open until 1:30 on Sunday, some days they aren't open at all and I don't know why. And it seems like every time I go, it's insanely crowded! Long checkout lines but skinny checkout lanes make it an ordeal.

But lastly some of it is just so different than everything we're used to. I went to the store on Saturday morning as I wanted produce but not huge quantities like what we get at the street market. I snapped quite a few photos while there so that years from now we can remember why we never bought eggs in Italy.

Okay, so for example...eggs. In every grocery store in the states, usually in a back corner is the dairy section: milk, eggs, butter, yogurt, cream, etc. Well Italians, they do it different. They don't really "do" fresh milk. Here in the Veneto region, we do have ''milk machines'' (check out my BFF Amy's post on those here) but most places in Italy and most stores, they sell mostly shelf stable milk. UHT milk. In tiny little cartons. Cartons far too tiny for our family of six. So there isn't so much a dairy section as a milk aisle...
And the milk, it isn't horrible. It is different, it leaves a film in your cup. I don't usually drink a glass of milk {unless it's with a sleeve of Oreos} so I can't comment on the direct taste but I use it in cooking/baking and on cereal. I try to keep a few boxes on hand just in case we run out of fresh milk (which we buy 3 or 4 at a time from the milk vending machine). Sissy drinks it straight and doesn't complain. To each their own I guess!

So if there isn't really a dairy section...where are the eggs you wonder? Oh, right here...on the end of aisle 3. Not refrigerated. Not cold. Not even sold in ''dozens'' but in packages of six. I'm all for experiencing Italy while we live here, but I cannot eat warm eggs. I can't.
So the 'dairy' section that there is, I didn't get a great photo of (I already stand out as an American, taking photos isn't earning me any street cred) but it's usually with the produce. 
That narrow picture of the cold milk above? That's the entire cold milk section. Next to it is yogurt and across is cheese. Lots of cheese. Stinky cheese, Philadelphia cream cheese, fresh mozzarella...more cheese than you can imagine.

And again, I couldn't get a photo without looking like a total creeper but when you get produce in Italy (if it's not prepackaged by weight in a bag/plastic carrier) you have to wear gloves. Plastic disposable gloves, as you don't touch the fruit with your hands. If the above photo there is a woman standing near her husband and shopping cart, you might be able to see the glove on her right hand.

So while those are the three biggies that shocked us (small dairy section, hot eggs and protective wear for produce) there are a few more that you just don't think about unless you're there. Like, pasta. Obviously this is Italy, there is going to be pasta. What you don't think of is the fact that there is an aisle and a half, JUST for dry pasta. The photo below, that's just the Barilla pasta section...nothing but pasta spans the entire aisle...
So if you can picture it, imagine that section times's the entire aisle and I am not exaggerating. We always buy our pasta "on the economy'' and never at the commissary. Pasta at Ali is anywhere from €.38-€1 a box, usually with some sort of ''buy one get one free'' special. Way cheaper than the commissary! There is also 1/2 an aisle for sauces/canned tomatoes and another 1/2 aisle for olive oil. Both items we typically buy at Ali.

Okay, this next thing I saw literally over a year ago and never blogged about but I have to, as I never want to forget the opportunity I had but never gave my kids while we lived in Italy....Italian baby food.
 Look closely...there is Beef, Horse, Turkey, Rabbit and Salmon flavors to choose from...
 BLAH! Seriously. Can you imagine opening a jar of "Filet of Salmon'' and feeding it to your kiddo? How about cracking the lid on some Rabbit? I know it's a culture thing but geez does that skeeve me out!

Now that you've got that lovely smell on your mind, lets move on to....Vino!
Three aisles of Vino to be exact, at our tiny little corner grocery store. Go to Emisfero and there is a HUGE section of wines. They range in price from €1.80 (About $2.40 a bottle) and up. It's typically sorted by type "prosecco, frizzante, brut, etc" then by color or region.

But, it's cheaper if you just grab the wine ''to go'' in little self serve vino ''juice boxes''...
My fat thumb is covering up the writing but those little boxes average 11% alcohol by volume! I'll be honest, I've never tried it but at €1.20 for 3 boxes, I'm guessing it's a pretty average table wine. 

So that's this American's take on the Italian grocery store. Just like I have my opinions on Italy, they have their opinions on America. 

I leave you with this frozen pizza that is ''AMERICAN'' Style Supreme...

"Soft, crunchy with mozzarella'' crust topped with pepperoni, ham, peppers, mushrooms, CORN and tomatoes. Can we say 'Yum'?
I've been away from the states for 18 months now but can someone please reassure me that Pizza Hut hasn't added corn as a pizza topping? If that's so, I'll hit up the vino aisle and never leave...

1 comment:

  1. Great post! You are very observant. After living here for so long, I get totally grossed out when I see people in the American grocery handling the produce without gloves. Oh, the germs!

    PS. The eggs are better. You are totally missing out on that :)


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