Many years ago, back in the beginning of time, when I lived in Minneapolis I used to shop at a 'high-end' supermarket. There were chandeliers in the frozen food aisle and a gift shop selling Baccarat Crystal.
It started out as a special occasion treat. I'd go there for dinner party or holiday shopping because the selection was wonderful and the produce was better than anywhere else. As my salary increased so did my trips to this market until, eventually, that was where I did all my shopping.
The friend that I am staying with decided to host a small dinner party; not in my honor but to take advantage of my presence: I was to do the cooking! To say she doesn't cook is a gross understatement. We planned the menu and I agreed to do the shopping (as she wouldn't recognize half the stuff I wanted).
I set off to my old, favorite store. First stop, Arborio rice for the risotto. There were at least a million packages of 'just add water' flavors of every kind of rice dish imaginable. Plain, old rice – the kind you have to actually cook? Nope! I found a few bags of organic brown rice, some regular 'rice', and that was about it. No Jasmine, Basmati, Aborio, Carnaroli, brown Basmati. In short: nothing of interest.
On to produce. Huge displays of oranges, neatly laid out in rows; lovely apples, also arranged attractively; miles of packaged baby carrots, baby spinach, baby romaine (what is it about size here? Tiny vegetables and monstrous sweets? Are they afraid to let the vegetables grow up?).
The produce manager asked if he could help me find something. I said, yes: vegetables. He pointed to the long aisle of pre-packaged salad greens. I explained that I was looking for actual vegetable still in their original form. He apologized, said he might have a cauliflower in the back. I asked him why, in spring, there were no peas or favas or fresh spinach, etc. He said: demographics. Their clients were very happy to pay more money for less variety, less interesting, less fresh food as long as they didn't have to do any work. (Actually, I said that last part)
So far I had an empty basket. On to the bakery. They'd always had a lovely bakery. I wasn't planning on a dessert, just a few Petit Four's to have with coffee. Did they have them? Of course. Each one was roughly a 4 inch cube (10cm). Not very petite! I may have made this comment out loud. (I repeat: tiny vegetables; monstrous sweets) I was asked where I was from. I explained that I live in France. The response was: Well, this is America. We do things big here!
I bought 2 brownie-type bars and cut each one in fourths. (We didn't eat it all.)
I left the lovely store and headed out to the co-op. I even had my own shopping bag that I brought with me from France (HyperU). It was heaven! Still no grown-up carrots but lovely leeks; bulk rice in every form and from every country imaginable, as well as grains, etc.; real goat's milk cheese; Greek yogurt; I had found my store! Plus, everyone was friendly and so very helpful.
After talking with other friends I now understand that there are 2 types of shopper/stores here: frantic feeders who pay more for less at the fancy stores and serious eaters who pay less for more at the co-op stores.
I know which group I'm in!
I am absolutely amazed, where ever you shop, at how expensive food is here! All of you American foodie/cook/bloggers have my sympathy for the prices and my amazement and awe that you manage to eat so very well. Oh yeah, been to Trader Joe's….. Lucky you!
The dinner party? If I may humbly say: it was lovely. The guests were convivial, the food good and the ambiance perfect. a good time was had by all!