Friday, September 24, 2010

Food shopping in Italy and North Jersey

I had a chance to shop at an Italian supermarket and browse in a local butcher shop-deli, and compare them to my favorite food stores in North Jersey.

I was told the Billa supermarket on Lido di Venezia that I visited was part of a chain owned by Austrians, who once ruled Venice. (Lido is a beach resort on the Adriatic Sea, and one of the islands that make up Venice.)

This Billa market wasn't as big as a ShopRite, but all the promotions and sales going on gave the impression it is the low-price leader in Italy, just as ShopRite makes that claim here. But Billa is behind some ShopRites when it comes to providing antibiotic-free poultry and meat, and preservative-free cold cuts. I didn't see any fish.

I also couldn't find any organic milk, and in fact, no item I saw was labeled organic. That surprised me, because the Slow Food movement began in Italy and agriturismo is well-developed, with organic farms offering overnight stays and meals of naturally raised food.

At the checkout counter, one man was buying a dozen liters of Italian extra-virgin olive oil, which were on sale for about $4 each. The price of the large, plastic bottle of mineral water I had was cut in half, to 22 euro cents ($1 was worth 70 euro cents).

As I do in a ShopRite or other supermarkets here, I  had to make sure the item near a price or sale sign was, in fact, the item described on the sign. And the checkout counters moved as slowly there as they do here. If you want a plastic bag, Billa charges 6 euro cents for one.

A few days later, I visited Varese and walked through a crowded butcher shop. Chickens were being sold whole with some of the feathers still in place, and that seemed intentional rather than the result of a poor cleaning job.

In Gallarate, outside a cheese shop, I saw a vending machine selling plastic and glass bottles and unpasturized milk (latte crudo). The price was 1 euro per liter (3.8 liters make a gallon).

Back home, I went to Whole Foods Market in Paramus on Tuesday, and found large, whole whiting for $4.99 a pound. The store was having a one-day sale on wild-caught coho salmon for a low price of $7.99 a pound.

At H Mart in Little Ferry the next day, I bought fresh spinach and baby bok choy, and watched the fishmongers set up the counter, which usually has about 20 selections of whole and filleted fish on ice, labeled with country of origin and whether it is farmed or wild-caught. I also picked up prepared Korean food: stewed tofu, stewed Alaskan pollack and japchae or noodles.

At Jerry's in Englewood on Thursday, I limited myself  to Italian wine at $4.99 and $5.99 a bottle.

Although my exposure to shopping in Italy was limited, North Jersey food stores appear to be both bigger and better.

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(Photo: The window of a butcher shop in the city of Monza, Italy.)
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  1. When were you in Gallarate? I know which cheese store you are talking about. I live in Gallarate and you can also find crudo and organic milk at local grocery stores like Esselunga. Although, I wouldn't advise people to drink unpasteurized milk from a vending machine:)

  2. I was in Italy from Sept. 9-20, and stayed at the Hotel Astoria in Gallarate my last three nights, Sept. 16-19. I really liked the hotel staff and the restaurants, and will be writing about them soon. I don't know much about the town, but chose it because returning to Milan for my last few days would have been so expensive, compared to Gallarate. And on the morning of my departure, I got a free shuttle to the airport.

  3. That should be Sept. 17-19 in Gallarate -- just three nights.


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