Food Shopping For The First Time In California

September 13, 2011 | By | COMMENTS

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Do you remember that game show where couples would race through a grocery store trying to buy as much as they could in 60 seconds? “Supermarket Sweep”: that’s the name of it! I remember watching that when I’d fake sick and stay home from school to watch “The Price Is Right” (the major perk of being home sick) and then the lesser game shows that came on after (“Press Your Luck,” “The New Hollywood Squares”). Anyway: I spent the weekend setting up our new kitchen and yesterday I was ready to fill it up with stuff. So I gave myself permission to do my very own version of a Supermarket Sweep.

My theory was this: no matter how much I spent yesterday filling up my wagon at the grocery store, it would still be cheaper than eating an equivalent number of meals out. So that big bag of CalRose rice (unique to California) may cost $5, but with that I can make fried rice, I can use it as a base for chicken or shrimp or fish, and whatever dinner I make with it, ultimately, will cost less than that same dish at a restaurant. You get the idea.

So I shopped ’til I dropped as you can see from my wagon:

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But you may be wondering: “Adam, you just moved to California from New York, did you notice any differences while food shopping in a mainstream grocery store out west vs. a mainstream grocery store back east?” (I shopped yesterday at Gelson’s.)

Good question, imaginary reader. There WERE differences; here they are with bullet points:

* Hellman’s Mayonnaise is not Hellman’s Mayonnaise here. It’s called “Best Foods Real Mayonnaise.” At first I thought it was a cheaper, conventional substitute (like they do with cereal) but no; it’s made by Hellman’s. It’s just not called Hellman’s.

* Brown sugar here is different. Back east, you can buy Domino brand “Light Brown Sugar” or “Dark Brown Sugar.” Here, in California, it’s sold as “Pure Cane Sugar” and it comes in either “Golden Brown” or “Dark Brown.” (See New York brown sugar on the left and California brown sugar on the right.)

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* You can get olive oil produced in-state. We have a really nice neighbor here in our new apartment named Chloe who told me that she buys California Olive Oil as gifts for friends when they come to town. So when I was at Gelson’s yesterday and I saw California Olive Oil for $10.00 how could I not buy it?

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I tasted a spoonful when I got home, and it was really fresh-tasting and grassy. It didn’t have any heat to it–it’s not spicy like some olive oils can be–but it was definitely clean-tasting and good. This may be my new standard.

* Dude, they sell alcohol in the grocery store.

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This is a huge deal for someone who likes to one-stop shop. Now when I’m making a fish stew that calls for a tablespoon of Pernod, I can buy the Pernod at the same place where I buy the onions and tomatoes. Plus: they also have a decent selection of wine. I bought a Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc last night for $13 that was tasty and required no more effort than simply lifting the bottle and placing it in my shopping cart.

And speaking of shopping carts: I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to load up my cart like I did–in a way I’d never do in New York (because I’d have to carry it all home)–push it out to the parking lot, place the groceries in the trunk of my car and drive it to my doorstep where I unloaded it a few bags at a time. That’s way better than schvitzing as I carry my body weight in bags down 6th Avenue, as I’d been known to do.

So all-in-all I enjoyed my first food shopping experience in California. And, of course, I can’t wait to hit the farmer’s market next… that’s where California should really shine. Avocados and citrus, here I come.

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