Read, Write, Run, Roam

Grocery Shopping Lessons in Italy, or More is More


When I reminisce about this last trip to Italy, I’ll think of the usual “Italian” things: great scenery, excellent food, and fun people. But one of my fondest memories will be my tour of the MD discount grocery store in the Rome suburb of Fiumicino.

It was our second to last day in Italy, and the last we were staying near a major city. I wanted to go to a grocery store to pick up a few small items that are hard to come by in Serbia, like anchovies, salted capers, and taralli, which are basically Italian pretzels that I have a terrible obsession with.

Taralli image courtesy of Wikipedia

Over breakfast, I innocently asked the B&B proprietors about a nearby grocery store. A long discussion followed, but it was mostly in Italian. Muz had to take over-he speaks Italian and I do not-and somewhere in the conversation, it was decided that the Signore at the B&B would drive us to a nearby discount store and help us with our selection. This seemed unnecessary, but I learned a valuable lesson: if you ask a question about food in Italy, it will be taken very, very seriously.

Signore and I walked into the store while Muz kept the dog outside. He proceeded to examine goods and read their ingredients out loud: “Farina, aqua, sale…” Then he would suddenly proclaim, “no!” and put it back. He did this several times, without explanation.

When he liked an item, he would throw it in the cart. Cheese, olive oil, and endless boxes of pasta were given his approval. He selected at least two, and sometimes five of each item that met his mysterious criteria.

I picked up a bag of polenta and was promptly given a lesson in proper stirring, right in the middle of the aisle; Signore rotated his arms wildly and people ducked to avoid his movements. When we reached the anchovies, he piled six jars in the cart. I made a joke about him liking them as much as I do, and he said, “No, this is all for you.”

Note to self: find more recipes with anchovies

I looked at the cart. It was full. Muz was not going to be pleased, and I wasn’t even sure how it would fit in the trunk around all our luggage. I protested that I just wanted a few items, but he shook his head-a gesture of ten thousand words. In a tone usually reserved for children, he said, “This is food for 15 days.”

I wasn’t sure if he thought Serbia was a foodie wasteland, or if this was considered a normal jaunt to the grocery store. But I didn’t remember where to return most of the items, and we were running late. Also, I was kind of curious about the pasta; he said it was the best in Italy. I gave up, gave in, and hoped that Muz would find trunk place for our specially selected items.

He did.

My Italian grocery shopping lesson was complete. Signore was a wonderful teacher, and a smart man. As we unpacked our seemingly endless supply of groceries, I thought, “I can’t believe I only bought two bags of tarelli.”

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