Sunday, September 14, 2008

Market day In Gricignano

I have a landlady, and friend, named Ana. She lives upstairs from my family and is always available for any of my questions, whether they be small or slightly pantomimed (She speaks no english, and I'm still in my early stages of Italian.) Ana has taken in my family as another branch on the tree of her own. With the dollar to euro conversion making our life a little interesting, I asked Ana where the best places to buy good quality fruit and vegetables for cheap were. She smiled and told me to wait till Thursday. When Thursday did come, I was summoned to the door bright and early at 8:30 by the doorbell. There Ana stood, ready to leave. "Vieni Dominique. Le Mercato!" (Come Dominique, the market!) I grabbed my purse and followed her to her Panda and climbed in. Down the road from where we lived was an entire market that had set up in the matter of hours.
The place was a maze of tables and tents, people, merchandise, smells, and a colorful array of voices shouting to the passing customers. No loudspeakers are allowed. Vendors must shout to get your attention, and yell over the other vendors. It gets heated, but usually ends in a laugh from the vendors and customers. Stalls are set up so that merchandise of the same kind are next to one another. Clothes down one row of tables, food and produce vendors down another.
With Ana leading the way, she headed straight for the produce vendors. She knew all of them by their first names, and even scolded a few for attempting to charge a little more than usual. I told Ana that I was a little worried because I only had 8 Euro in my purse. She snickered and waved her hand at me, as in, "Don't worry!" And pointed at the signs lining the table. ".80 euro 1 kilo" "4= 1 Euro" and so on. When I realized that it was extremely cheap she smiled and said, "Capito?" (understand?) I nodded and we shopped.

For the equivalent of $4 (2.50 Euro) I bought 1 kilo (2 pounds) of plum tomatoes, 1 kilo of fresh green beans, and 5 bell peppers ranging in colors from green to red.
Highly impressed at the quality and amount that I got, I asked Ana what was next. She crooked her finger at me and took me across the way to the cheese and Salami vendor. Who didn't hesitate to smile for the camera.
After the Cheese Vendor (where Ana and I both passed on buying anything due to the lack of need for it) we moved on to the vendor next to him. The Olive Vendor.

In America, Olives are pretty costly. A pound will easily set you back about $10. Here that would be highway robbery. Olives are sold from gigantic buckets filled with all flavors, colors, varieties, and preference. Some are even marinated in garlic with hot pepper flakes for those more adventurous. For around 2 Euro, you can easily walk away with an entire pound. Which is exactly what Ana happily did.

Next, Ana decided that for her family's dinner she would make some fresh seafood (A staple in Neapolitan cooking). We perused the selection on a nearby table, but due to my squimishness on having to descale, debone, and gut my own fish.....I passed. Prawns are sold whole, as well as anchovies. The buckets that got my attention though were not the ones filled with finned things...

The buckets lining the table we were at held Octupi, baby octupi, whole squid, fresh mussels, and clams. I opted to buy 1 kilo of the mussels or 'Cozze' as they are called in Italy.

1 Kilo cost me only 2.50 euro, and I already had the makings of a great dinner in my shopping bags. With 3 euro still left in my pocket we walked around for a few more minutes, looked at fruit from a few other vendors, and I was asked many many times to take pictures of the vendors. Soon shouts of vendors prices turned into shouts for me to come take their photos.....

(Salami and Cheese Vendor):

Fruit Vendor:

Once Ana decided that she had purchased enough from the market, she decided that our next stop should be the Macelleria (Butcher). I nodded, but I was quite sure that 3 Euro wouldn't really purchase enough to make a meal out of. Especially when I'd seen meat at the local supermarkets reach upwards of 5 euro for a pound of meat and not a kilo. When we pulled up outside the shop, Ana quickly got out of the car and walked through the plastic beaded curtain (no doubt to keep the flies out) at the entrance of the shop.

Once inside, she pulled a number from the que and waited and watched as other Italian ladies told the three hardworking butchers inside their orders. Some of them were pretty specific about the cuts of meat, and Ana stood behind them curiously watching them, and then from time to time would sigh exasperated at their words. When Ana's number was called, she charged to the display case and looked at her choices....

I for one, have never been big on ordering straight from the butcher at the meat department in Grocery stores, or even gone to a specialty butcher. Here it's common place to order from the butcher rather than go to the Supermercato where the price can be doubled and sometimes tripled. Ana pointed out the different cuts of beef in the display case and ordered her family a set of thinly sliced steaks.
(American steaks are something of an oddity to Neapolitans. Meat is to be enjoyed, not gorged on! At least that's what she tells me...) I'll admit after standing in there, I could see why you would opt for the butcher store rather than the supermarket.

The butcher knew Ana by name, and even asked if she wanted her "Usual". Likewise, she called him by his first name, which is Vittorio, and even had him pose for me:By the time my number had been called, I asked about the abundant cuts of chicken in the display case. Vittorio told me in his best english that an entire hind leg section, including some of the chest was only 2.80 Euro. Perfecto! I asked him to wrap one up for me, and when we left he asked me to come back again, which I will most definitely do.
On the way home Ana asked me how I enjoyed myself. I began to tell her that in no way would I have ever been able to buy as much as I had for so little in the states. The chicken would have been around $7, the vegetables an easy $10 and the seafood? Who knows! So for the amount of 8 Euro I was able to buy a week's worth of vegetables, and two night's worth of meat and seafood. Not to mention the fun time I had just taking pictures and experiencing the culture. Next week I'll be going back to see what I can get for another 8 Euro...

1 comment:

EllRice said...

I just returned from Italy on Holiday and was similarly enamoured and sometimes exasperated at the Italian lifestyle. Finding this a really good read as I consider relocating myself.