It’s that time again! The time to overuse exclamation points and to visit a supermarket in a foreign country! The last time we did this, it was in Australia and you all enjoyed yourselves so much I knew I had to do it again. This time, you’re getting two for the price of one: a visit to a British supermarket, then a visit to a German supermarket. Alas, I didn’t have a chance to go to a French supermarket, so we’ll have to save that for my next trip to Europe. Now, without further ado, let’s hop on over to the Notting Hill neighborhood of London and see what kind of food they’re selling to the locals.
All right, class, find your buddy and take them by the hand…we’re going on a class trip to Australia to check out an Australian supermarket!
Surely there are better reasons to go to Australia, like the Sydney Opera House or kangaroos or Olivia Newton John, but as a lover of food and food shopping and grocery stores, I was fascinated to go into a mainstream grocery store today to see how it differed from its American cousins. And the one that I chose, Cole’s, was a perfect choice because it couldn’t have been more conventional. It is to Sydney what D’Agastino’s is to New York and Ralph’s is to California. It’s where normal people go to shop and, because of that, it’s easier to compare the differences. So hop into my cart and let’s see what there is to see.
When you’re having friends over for dinner at 7:30, and it’s getting on in the day, time grows precious and you have to prioritize. Do you spend it shopping or do you spend it cooking? More often than not, I spend it cooking. My usual cooking routine goes: rush to Gelson’s, gather up overpriced ingredients, hurry home, make the dessert, assemble the entree, get things ready for the appetizer and drink a glass of wine while listening to “The Music Man” just as the guests show up. But last week I changed my dinner party strategy. Instead of spending most of my time in the kitchen, I spent it on the road, gathering up great ingredients to see if it made a difference. And you know what? It totally did. That strategy yielded better results than if I’d spent that same time stirring over a stove. Here’s why.
To get to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market from where I live, you have two choices: you can take highways (the 101 to the 110 to the 10 West) or you can take streets. If you do take streets, there are probably many speedy options; streets that take you far west with minimal traffic. Of all the streets that you can take to Santa Monica, the slowest is probably Santa Monica itself–it moves at a crawl–and that’s something I learned the hard way (even though I’d be warned!) as I chose that as my primary route last Wednesday to the farmer’s market most frequented by chefs and food lovers here in L.A.
I started cooking seven or eight years ago, maybe even a little further back, and it was around the time that people stopped buying whole heads of lettuce and started buying lettuce, pre-washed, in those little plastic tubs. The tubs, which are now omnipresent, have labels like “Spring Salad Mix” and “Herb Salad Mix” and they cost, usually, around $5. And like many of you out there, if I wanted to make a quick lettuce salad, I’d grab one of those tubs, pay my $5, bring it home, dress it up and call it a day.
I didn’t grow up in a house with cooking, so food shopping was always a bit casual: a box of this, a bag of that. We’d have Fruit Roll-Ups in the cabinet and ice cream sandwiches in the freezer and so, when I became an adult and lived in my first adult apartment in college, I shopped the same way. I’d go to the store and buy a few frozen pizzas, a packet of cheese, a loaf of bread. There wasn’t much thought behind it; the idea was when we weren’t ordering in Chinese food or going down to Emory Village for dinner at Panera, I could make a grilled cheese or defrost a frozen pizza. Then, after college, I got into cooking.
Several years ago, when I went to Paris, I rode the Metro from my teensy hotel in the 80th arrondissement, to meet a food blogger I admired but had never met, Mr. David Lebovitz. As I came up the stairs (or was it an escalator?) I beheld a vision: there, standing before me, was a smiley man holding what looked to be the world’s largest picnic basket. David toured me around and I made a video, which you can watch here (sorry for the song choice! (what was I thinking??)):