A friend of mine in another city, a sometime reader of this blog, found it amazing when I told her I had access to butter from four countries. But I was wrong. Actually, as you can see at left, my local shop (it’s not exactly a grocery store; more on this later) has at least 14 kinds of butter from such dairy-rich nations as Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany, England, and (let’s just go ahead and give them their own country already) Vermont. You can’t even see it because the Kosher food has its own section, but there’s also Israeli butter. Can I count Land O’Lakes as a land? I guess not. But the selection’s impressive, no?
So let’s have another “you live like this, we live like that” exposition. There are three places to get groceries in New York City. We’ll look at each.
The one you’re no doubt familiar with, as was I when I was growing up in the suburbs, is the supermarket. Right now you’re imagining a vast, clean, wide-aisled fairyland where the latest things that you see advertised on TV are available in every possible permutation. Think again. For starters, ours are much, much smaller, as well as dirtier, and if you can get your basket (don’t bother with a cart) past another person’s ass without knocking over a slew of tuna cans, count yourself lucky. By the way, there will only be two brands and maybe three varieties to knock over. If you see a commercial for something fun like “lemon dill tuna,” don’t bother looking, it won’t be there, and while you’re peering at the shelf someone will knock their basket into your ass.
Here’s an example of a “super” market. Like most supermarkets here, it’s in the base of an apartment building. Like many, it’s on two floors (another reason you can’t use a cart) and there’s an escalator. Some have an elevator. Some are all on a lower floor and you have to take an escalator down just to get to the food. This is a Food Emporium, an “upscale” market. By upscale, they mean overpriced. I wanted to take a picture of a Gristede’s, which is the dominant grocery store around here, but it was out of my way, and like most New Yorkers, I won’t walk more than four blocks for a grocery store (there are bags to carry home, you know).
On the other end of the spectrum, there is the bodega (bo-day-gah).
Bodegas are kind of like 7-Eleven or Wawa except instead of a fruity slushy drink, there are vitality-supplements from Asia. And, as you can see, flowers. Here, your need for milk and Sun Chips without walking more than 30 yards from your apartment or subway is met by the entrepreneurial-minded immigrant who has a mark-up that Apu at the Quick-E-Mart can only dream about. You can see the name of the bodega on the awning, “K&S Market,” but I would bet you no one who has ever shopped there knows that. I certainly didn’t. I, like everyone else, call it by some variation of “the bodega on the corner near the pizza place.”
In between these two extremes are various specialty and independent grocery stores. Some are just mini-supermarkets, some skew to the health conscious, and some, like the one where I got the butter, cater to a more gourmet clientele. Here it is below:
Yes, it’s called Barzini’s. Please insert your own Godfather/Five Families joke. Here’s mine: “I thought that place with 14 kinds of European butter was a dream, but I didn’t know until this day that it was Barzini’s all along.” Yes, OK, I’ll keep working on that.
Anyway, I know you’re wondering so I’ll tell you. I bought the Breakstone’s.
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