Ever since Mariano’s moved into the neighborhood we’ve shopped there pretty exclusively. Yeah, we still go to TJ’s, and sometimes stop in to whatever store is convenient to get one or two items we really need. Before Mariano’s (which I would refer to as BM, but that would be unfortunate in the extreme) we would go to a place called Fresh Farms International Market because they had a lot of ethnic foods, and really good prices. It was also a great place to people watch because it was like the UN. One day I found myself shopping for feta with a Greek priest with a long gray beard.
Well yesterday I meant to pick up some wonton wrappers so I could make pot stickers, and of course I forgot them. Also Mariano’s didn’t have either of the chutneys we needed to make bhel puri. We needed coffee and really prefer the stuff from Regulus, so we rented a car and decided to have breakfast at Marilyns in Skokie (Amazingly good blueberry-lemon-ricotta pancakes) then go to Fresh Farms, stop and pick up my scripts, and hit Regulus on the way back.
We got to FF and lost time. Literally, we spent an hour and a half there without going through most of the aisles. We talked to a lot of people, asked advice about different foods, sampled a few things, were utterly flummoxed by some of the stuff we found there, said “One of everything please!” several times, and together we spent $70. This is what we got:
A box of 12 ripe mangos, Aloo paratha (Pillsbury? Really?) and a 3.5 oz bag of ground cinnamon.
A big bag of bhel puri mix, a big bottle of fish sauce (a really nice woman told us which one she thought was best), a pack of pappadums, 12 oz of pink Himalayan salt ($1.99. Let that sink in for a minute.), a 3.5 oz bag of ground cardamom, a box of fresh pea sprouts, 2 lbs of organic strawberries, a bag of bulgur, two packs of gyoza/potsticker wrappers and a jar of tamarind chutney.
Plum chutney, garlic ginger paste (fans of Aarti Sequeira will know about this stuff), a lemon, fried tofu pockts for inari sushi, moo-shu pancakes, coriander chutney, and a bag of frozen mixed Indian-style vegetables.
A loaf of crusty bread (sadly they no longer make the chocolate cherry bread I love so much) two bags of Indian snacks, recommended by a very nice Indian man, and a big bottle of soy sauce, recommended by the same nice woman who helped us with the fish sauce.
And this, my friends, is why it’s a great thing to shop locally, and at an ethnic market. This stuff, even if you could find it at your local supermarket, would cost probably half again as much or even twice as much. The cardamom and cinnamon alone were less than half of what I paid the last time I went to The Spice House, a place I dearly love, but their prices can be really high. The pink salt? A quarter of what I pay at TSH. Are the spices fresh? You bet they are.
Last night we introduced our friend, Barbara, to the joys of Mariano’s. I think next time we’ll take her to Fresh Farms.