Monday, July 25, 2011

Grocery Shopping

I got into a conversation today about grocery shopping. I think most people assume I shop only organic, and at stores like Whole Foods because of course I believe in eating a healthy plant based diet...and where would a person get healthy plants? (lol, kidding)

Anyway the chronology of my grocery shopping has come full circle back to my neighborhood ethnic markets and to Safeway.

When I first started to make all of my own foods I most often shopped at a Vietnemese market 2 blks from my house. The produce was fresh and abundant and it had a meat counter with fresh seafood (I didn't cook much seafood, but it was there if I wanted it!) The prices were easily 1/3-1/2 of a mainstream grocery like Safeway or Lucky and since I ate pounds of salads I needed a large supply. The Veitnemese market also has a unique selection of dried fruits, including my favorite dried cherry tomatoes (sweet), and the store carries alot of pickled items, super inexpensive quail and quail eggs. Great place to get spices too, especially curry, red pepper flakes, balck pepper and sea salt.

I also used to shop at Costco. Goodness, that was so long ago.... I'm not above a ready made roasted chicken, for sure, and Costco does come up with some decent fruits and veg. Huge bags of baby spinach, seasonal fruits and asparagus all year long (where do they get that asparagus?) Big cuts of meat, good quality USDA Choice is good stuff. But it was difficult to dodge the ambush of freebie sample foods, and most of the rest of the store is basically crap. I haven't shopped at Costco in at least 3 years and I don't miss it.

Mi Pueblo is a large Hispanic grocery store chain about 5 blks from my house and they just opened a store in Palo Alto! A Mexican market in Palo Alto...geez....Mi Pueblo must be doing something right! I's the humongous burritos they sell in the in store resturant all day long. Mi Pueblo has almost as much junk food as Safeway, just a different kind. They have a bakery with traditional mexican pastries....and cheap too! They have an in house meat counter with inexpensive prices (that's where I get my smoked turkey thighs for $1.49 lb), and authentic chorizo (what's not to like about chorizo?). Mi Pueblo does not have huge selection outside of the most popular types of produce, but recently started carrying chard (no collards), and Italian parsley...but the avocados, jalapenos and limes are cheap, cheap, cheap! And no where else could I get cherimoya or mammey fruit.

I haven't been to the flea market going on 3 years now but when I did I used to get alot of my salad staples, jalapenos and grapes. I used to buy fresh grapes by the pounds. You could also find fresh figs for $2 a basket in June and Sept., and they tasted great, unlike any fig I've ever bought in any grocery store....seriously I've never purchased one good fig at a store.

Whole Foods, or as Mark used to call it, Whole Wallet! After I lost all of my extra bodyweight I learned more about organic vegetables and that's when I switched to buying all of my produce and meats at Whole foods. Not that I don't believe that organic (and local) is better for you, it's just that now I don't think un-organic is bad for you! Lucky me that most of my groceries were ingredients to make my own foods and not the ready made foods they make and sell in the store, as it was not uncommon for me to get out of there spending less than $50. The bulk section has the best deals, and if it weren't so convenient, two blks walk from Girya, I'm not sure I would go out of my way to shop there. The prices can get ridiculous and that's the biggest reason why I don't feel the need to shop is the only place I can get lamb however, and I probably eat more of lamb than the average person. (you can also get buffalo)

Trader Joes. I really dislike Trader Joes....not that I don't shop there, I do!. When Trader Joes first opened they had quite a bit "gourmet" type foods but within a very short time every product became a "Trader Joes" brand....suspicious to me. Call me crazy, but I started to feel as if I was buying generic products....I'm not hating on generic, but..... The final straw one time was when I read the label of the red bell peppers I was going to buy....they were a product of Holland! Holland! Goodness how much did it cost to get those to San Jose? I quit buying TJ's produce for a long time after that. Trader Joes has so much crap, and on top of that it's crappy crap! Most of the sweets have fake fats and the calorie count of many of TJ's foods are off the charts. I do however make a weekly "stock up" shopping trip with the same items every time. Cream, yogurt, baby spinach, mushrooms, cheese, ak-mak crackers, raw almonds, brown rice, coconut water, wine. TJ's has the only ready made salad dressing I use, it's a low calorie spicy peanut dressing you find in the refrigerated section. Pretty much that's it....unless it's this time of the year...has anyone tried the Angelcots? Dee-lish!

Farmers' Markets. I think for about a couple of years I would hit a Farmers' Market everyday from Wednesday-Sunday. Good-ness! I was a Farmers' Market snob. I never bought any produce anywhere else from my onions to my celery and cabbage. All that produce would weigh a ton! I miss some of it, but not enough. I've only been to the FM once a week for that last couple months after my Saturday classes in Palo Alto because it's about 4 blks away. Funny thing though....I buy chicken livers, and cheese/yogurt. Rarely any veggies or fruit. I cook through the week so I don't need to stock up anything on Saturdays.

Super Kyo-po Korean market was one of my weekly stops at one time, about 2 miles from my yoga studio. Like most Asian markets the produce is fresh, plentiful and inexpensive. Yellow onions for $.29lb (I use a ton of onions), and that's where I discovered dried persimmons. Dried mushrooms are a bargain and so is sesame oil. I was hooked on a Korean salad called Jap-chae and found an excellent youtube video with very clear instructions (check it out, I love this woman's videos and recipes, I hope she is making a ton of money!). If I ate noodles more often I would still make it....hmmnn... This market also sells, and is the only source I know of for fresh kimchi. Huge heads of pickled and salted cabbage for about $2-$ know what kind of work goes into making that? They have lots of stuff I have no idea what it is...maybe it's time to go back.

Dobashi Japanese Market. This is a small Japanese market 2 blks from my house (I live in San Jose's Japantown). It has seaweed, rice, soy sauce, moshi, horribly tiny and dry cookies sort of things.....but it does have a beautiful produce and meat section with all organic products...if I'm in the mood. Dobashi also has ready made sushi and seaweed salad, pot stickers and the such and is the only place I can find "golden yolk" eggs, Marks favorite since he cooks an egg stir fry everyday. Everything is super expensive but it's convenient when I only need a few of those specialty items I mentioned.

Safeway. Theres' something to be said about being able to buy chicken and laundry detergent in one stop! That was part of drawing me back into Safeway. The other part was Mark Bittman, one of my favorite cookbook authors. In his book "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (a must have btw) he explains how one of the reasons whey he most often shops at places like Safeway is because he wants his readers, no matter where they live or what kind of budget they are on to be able to get the ingredients in his recipes easily. Hey, if Mark Bittman shops at Safeway the I can too! Safeway has some decent beef,(Ranchers Reserve), in fact I feel that the skirt steak is best quality, hands down. Other than that it's not anything special but the prices are fair and it's convenient.

I go to some kind of grocery store almost everyday because I have the time. I like to buy fresh and affordable foods and I try not to be so picky. Am I the only person that shops at half a dozen different stores every week? I have yet to make it to an Indian, Greek, or Persian market.....but I know where some are and it's only a matter of time....

Picture above: What I picked up yesterday at Mi Pueblo....sorry for the fuzzy pic but I hadn't planned on taking it and I had to do it quick as my tomatillos and Honeydew melon where already swiped through! I spent $40 ($14 of it was the chicken and cottage cheese).

honeydew melon
6 lbs whole chicken legs
2 pints cottage cheese (full fat)
5 limes, 2 lemons
5 ears of corn
2lbs of red grapes
2 fuji apples
yellow onions (no shopping trip would be complete without onions!)


JenG said...

I love this post, I love, love, love grocery shopping! Sounds like you get some really good prices out there. I wish we had that kind of a choice here. I shop at the farmers markets, Hannaford, our local natural food store and sometimes, although like you a lot less now, Sam's Club. Come garden season, I have very generous neighbors and family as well.
I, too, hit the grocery store almost every day and oh, what I would give for an Asian market!!!!

So, what are you going to do with the chicken thighs? :)

JenG said...

Oh...and what are 'golden yolk' eggs? Is this just in comparison to a grocery store egg? I have chickens, so there is no way I would buy a grocery store egg ever again. LOL

Fatguy said...

Great post! I'd love Mark's stir fry recipe, if you can find the time.

Gayle said...

I was giggling at the thought of 6 different grocery stores, but when I think about it...I'm not that far off.

I'm totally envious of your Asian market! :) I'm in somewhat rural VT, so most of my produce shopping gets done at our natural food co-op, farmers markets and Hannaford. hubby and I have become meat-egg-cheese-milk-snobs. We have neighbors with a cow and chickens, so we get our milk and eggs from them once a week. One of our favorite local artisan cheese makers started raising whey-fed pigs a few years ago, so we get a half-hog from them once a year. Same kinda thing with beef (we buy in bulk from a few local farmers). Not to mention my husband hunts, so we usually have a good supply of venison. I think we'd starve without our big-ass freezer!

We used to have a Costco membership, but the amount of giant muffins we were bringing home every visit was ridiculous!

Maribel said...

Holy smokes. Seems like a lot of running around and I know you use the fact that you're in the vicinity as I've seen you come to the studio with a bag on your way in.

I do the same...if I see an opportunity to drop in the market I use for certain things, I'll do so. I'm terrible at planning meals because at the time I almost never get any's when I'm home rummaging that I create the best meals, so my regular shopping usually just has the basics.

I have a love/hate relationship with Costco. I love that I get coffee, but I hate walking through the aisles of junk that we don't consume. I do buy the bulk spinach there because I eat a lot of it and use it for smoothies for the kids.

I always thought the Asian and Mexican markets were the best kept secrets from most people. The produce is so diverse.

Can I say that I looooove shopping at the market here in Mexico. The meat is fresh, as in the just butchered the animal that morning. The color of the meat that fresh is completely different than what we're used to seeing in the grocery store. And the produce is freshly picked from the farmer's yard. The selection is limited in that certain days there is chicken, pork, fish or beef. I kind of like that. Oh, and there's deer, wild boar and wild turkey as well.

Mark Reifkind said...


my stir fry:
1 tbsp olive oil or sunflower oil

add in:
half onion
3 mushrooms
1/2 bell pepper, one stalk celery or big chunk cabage
4 cloves garlic
LOTS of spinach
salt and pepper

stir fry this til wilted and then add 3 eggs and one slice swiss cheese.

lots of ketchup :))

sometimes I add avocado, or fresh tomatoes if they are in season but that's the basic deal.

I have the eggs either sunny side up or scrambled but that's my main meal every day .

Fatguy said...

Thanks Mark! That must be a large skillet to cook all that in!

Mark Reifkind said...


it cooks down pretty well. I start with the onions and mushrooms and sweat them down pretty well, then add the garlic, then the spinach, which also cooks down to 1/8 the original volume. then the eggs.

It's a big serving but I just use a regular size fry pan

Tracy Reifkind said...


Gotta love those neighbors with gardens!

You have chickens! Lucky duck! If I had access to home grown chicken eggs I'd be all over it....I might even start eating eggs!

The "golden yolk" eggs from the Japanese market have yolks the color of a school bus! Mark and I don't know how they get them that way, but you just feel better eating them!

I was planning on making a chicken and corn/chili chowder. I mad some chicken and corn stock a few days ago and I wanted to take advantage of corn season.

It's almost 5:00am right now and hopefully I'll get to it in a couple of minutes (pressure cooker of course!)

Tracy Reifkind said...


Everyday when Mark makes his stir fry I always tell him how good it must be the onions!

It's the only time I wish I liked eggs more!

Tracy Reifkind said...


I love my freezer!

Being snobby is a luxury! Lucky you guys! Nothing better than quality foods.

I guess I feel that the difference between truly homegrown/home raised meat and veg are so far above grocery store "organic" that I will gladly pay for the "real stuff" but otherwise I'll take my chances at Safeway.

Lat week I bought 3 qts of sheeps milk yogurt and $14 per! Quality is quality, and I enjoy every bite!

Tracy Reifkind said...


I like making sure I get a bit of walking in everyday and really that's one of the biggest reasons why I shop at the WF in PA! (I wish it were a bit further from the studio in fact)

I have that love/hate think with TJ's for sure. Even though they have decent fruits and veg I never feel good buying it there.

I agree that ethnic markets are the best kept secrets. Most people just need to get over the intimidation of the potential language barriers. I often will go into a new market thinking I'll just "take inventory" (look around). that kind of takes the pressure of my ignorance away. Then the next time I go into that market I feel like I know a little more than I did the first time.

I'm looking forward to the markets in Hungary. Hopefully I'll come home with some good "food stories"...that's the plan at least! (can't wait to hear about yours!)

Fatguy said...

So you just toss the eggs in with the rest and start stirring?

JenG said...

My chickens egg yolks are also that deep golden color, it's because they are free range and get to eat things like bugs & grass, especially the grass...that makes the yolks darker in color. Some producers add additives to caged hens to get their yolks darker. Grocery store eggs are usually old and from a hen that lives on grain. Pale yolks indicate poor diet or sick birds.
You should get some chickens!! They are great fun. They keep me entertained and well fed. :)

Mark Reifkind said...


yes. after the veg is wilted properly I either stir in eggs for a scramble or whole for sunny side up then mix up the whole thing.

Stephanie said...

My favorite store to shop at is the local salvage grocer. I know, it probably sounds gross, but they carry overstocks and slightly out of date food. The cool part is that the stuff often times comes from Central Market and Whole Foods. I can get really good deals on gourmet cheeses.

Earlier this year they had a blowout of Omaha Steaks. They were selling $40 steaks for $5! Some of the best steak I have ever eaten.

We also have great Asian markets in my area, although I rarely get to the other side of town where they are. I think nearly every ethnic group has at least one store represented in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so I guess I am lucky!

Fatguy said...

I tried the stir fry, it was delicious!! I think I'm going to add some roasted sesame seeds next time, just to add a little crunch ... maybe fresh bacon bits or something. Thanks a LOT for the information, Mark, it hit every spot! I have that feel good feeling that I used to get after finishing a family sized bag of chips and dip, just a couple years ago.

Tracy Reifkind said...


yep, "salvage" does sound gross!

The name may keep some people away, but if you know the food comes from higher end groceries then sounds good to me! You have to know what to look for.

Many times I see the WF employees clearing the shelves of what looks like perfectly good foods because of the experation, or maybe it's a holiday goodie the day afterwards....why don't they just mark it down?

Some of that stuff is way too expensive but on mark down I'm sure they could sell it we goes to the salvage store!

Thanks for your comment.

Tracy Reifkind said...


Watch the seasame seeds and bacon! If you want crunch try water chestnuts, thinly sliced radish, or bean sprouts.

Bacon is just smokey flavored salty fat, so you have to ask yourself what is it that you are looking for? Salt? Fat? Not that you shouldn't have bacon but moderation is key.

Pick and chose where to use these overflavored foods, don't have them with every meal. I know Mark uses ketchup (sugar, tomato and vinegar basically), but we save the bacon for the weekend.

Luke said...

Im not packed yet, but dont have to worry about food! Am looking forward to meeting you in Budapest! I write a fitness column in a local newspaper and have used you as an inspirational point for people in many of my articles! See you in a couple of days!

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