March 19, 2010


If I could, I would do all my shopping at places like these.
(This particular one is a nut stall in northern Thailand.)

I love to shop for food. I joke with Mr. Coffee that he's lucky. Rather than satisfying my shopping jones with clothes or shoes, I do it with something we need to buy every week anyway—groceries.

This post came about because I was at Fairway today, and when I got to the checkout, my cart was fairly empty. Though I had chosen carefully because I was biking and had limited carrying capacity, that wasn't the only reason. I had also passed over tons of things that we need at home but that I just don't buy there. You see, specific things on my grocery list require specific stores. 

Because I live in New York, I get to shop in the way I love best, in what I suppose one could call the European way. I go to one shop for this and another shop for that and the outdoor market for something else, exactly the way I shopped when I lived in Rome. (I wonder if it's like an imprint, the way you learn to do something like shopping. I moved to Rome right after I got out of college, and it was the first time I had to truly shop and cook for myself, so the "European way" is the way I learned how to do it.)

Most people, including my own mother, think I'm a little nuts. I have one friend (you know who you are) who refuses to go into a food store of any kind with me—she claims I wander too much.

I understand. Most people hate food shopping and were raised on the suburban megastore model: go to one place and get everything you need for the week.

I don't do that.

Instead, I wander. I make little trips all week to different stores. For someone who works at home, sitting in front of a computer most of the time, it helps break up my day.

And it's fun.

In any given week, I might go to my halal butcher in Kensington to pick up some lamb for curry. But that butcher is only for lamb, mind you. If it's beef I want, I head to Staubitz, a different butcher, and if it's chicken, I go to Fairway, because they stock Murray's, which I like.

I like the nuts at Sahadi's, but the pita bread better at Damascus next door. I like my sandwich cold cuts from the local Met Food, and my produce from the farmer's market, or, in the winter, from a chinese store in Sunset Park. I like my dried beans, my spices, and my yogurt from Patel Bros. in Jackson Heights.

Food shopping soothes me. It's where I do my thinking and work out plots for books or come up with story ideas. Food stores and markets are places of endless possibility, which makes me feel that my mind is a place of endless possibility as well.

When the Soccer Monster was a toddler, we lived for the summer in Spain, in Santiago de Compostela. I was grieving over the death of a very close friend. Every morning, after I dropped the monster off at daycare (where he was traumatized by all the Spanish-speaking matrons, but that's a story for a parenting blog, not a food blog) I would go to the big market in Santiago and stroll around the stalls. At our apartment we had barely a stove and only two pots, and we ate most of our meals out, but I didn't care. I just needed to see the food, to think of all the possibilities there were out there for cooking and eating.

Food shopping—It's what lets me know I'm alive. 

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