Food and the City: Food Shopping

Chelsea Market

Besides eating out at restaurants, what is the other capital dimension through which to explore a city and its food scene? Food shopping! Show me your grocery stores, and I’ll try to guess how you eat at home when no one’s looking, how you cook and how you feed your friends.

As in all other respects, New York did not disappoint. I loved the hyper-luxurious Dean & Deluca in Soho (rarely have I seen such a beautiful — and insanely pricey — store) and the exotic stalls of Chinatown, its amazing array of fresh fish and its buckets of live, though none-too-cheerful, toads.

I paid my respects to Whole Foods for the sake of old times — the Whole Foods of Cupertino and Palo Alto were regular haunts of mine — but fled as fast as I could for fear of being stomped by the weeknight crowds.

I walked around the Chelsea market built inside an old Nabisco factory (enjoying the industrial architecture at least as much as the stores), as well as the Union Square Greenmarket, with its profusion of lush and vibrant greens (such variety!) to be plucked at the foot of skyscrapers, while sipping on a glass of fresh and delicious, no-sugar-added, raspberry-apple cider.

I spent a few happy hours elbowing my way through the aisles of Fairway and Zabar’s (my preference clearly going to the latter), hovering over the prepared food counters and the deli cases, wishing I could just stay and set up camp right there, to taste my way through the incredible selection.

And through all this, the exhilarating feeling of being Alice in Cornucopia, dizzy with the abundance and the variety. Sure, Paris is not too shabby a place for the avid food shopper, but it is of course (I’m not complaining mind you) familiar, and nothing beats a whole new environment filled with appetizing intriguing quirky and exciting products. I suddenly recognized exactly what had first sparked my interest in food and cooking when I arrived five years ago in California. And at the very same time, the heartbreaking awareness that I had little time, no kitchen to play in, and that I couldn’t fit the whole city in my suitcase.

I did, however, find a little room for:
– two unreasonably large jugs of maple syrup, one Grade A from Vermont, one Grade B from New Hampshire,
– a box of Ruby Sipper infusion (blood orange and pear) by Serendipitea — I was a big fan of the Passion blend by Tazo but thought I would give this a whirl,
– a jar of Murray’s Hot Jerk Sauce,
– a box of Peanut butter puffins — cinnamon puffins are my favorite breakfast cereal in the whole wide world and beyond, and I just had to try this flavor (verdict: it is really good, but cinnamon still wins),
– a jar of old-fashioned chunky peanut butter made by Once Again Nut Butter — just whole unblanched peanuts and salt, no sugar at all and fabulously tasty,
– last but not least, a Totally Bamboo cutting board (the Molokini model) purchased on the second floor at Zabar’s — I’ve never seen bamboo cutting boards here in France, I loved the look of them, and the small wooden one I had split right in two a few weeks ago.

Dean & Deluca
560 Broadway (At Prince Street)
(212) 226-6800
[Several other locations]

Chelsea Market
75 9th Avenue (Btwn 15th and 16th Street)

Union Square Greenmarket
Union Square (At 14th Street and Broadway)

2127 Broadway (Btwn West 74th and West 75th street)
(212) 595-1888
[Several other locations]

2245 Broadway (At 80th Street)
(212) 787-2000

Whole Foods
4 Union Square South
(212) 673-5388
[Several other locations]

  • Swan

    And did you know that beets exist in orange as well?I had never seen them before but saw them at the Union Sq. Market.Same thing: no kitchen, no room in the suitcase :-(. Got to see if I can find some here, orange beets, imagine that on your plate!!!

  • Shannon Lewis

    I was in NYC last weekend and walked through China Town. The prices of fresh fish was amazingly cheap. I wish I lived in NYC.

  • I love Dean and Deluca and i guess that the prices are high to French standards but you can find things there that are difficult to find anywhere else. I also make the trip uptown to Fairway and Zabars now and then. Both stores are great for different reasons. Prices can vary also.

    Did you try Citrella? They have stores in the Village and Upper west Side. I often find unique items there and I think they have better cheese prices that all the others.

  • deb

    I loved the appearance of my bamboo cutting board but have been disappointed in how visible each scratch and knife mark is – more so than with wood.

    Loving your food reviews of my city!

  • creampuff

    Your comments about the excitement of a new foodie city mirror mine about being in Paris.

    I think the trick is to act like a tourist in your own city and never lose that Alice in Cornocupia feeling. I know I try to be like that here in the San Francisco Bay area. Visiting different neighborhoods and farmers’ markets and trying to shop and eat seasonally help.

  • hi clotilde,
    hope you are doing well. i enjoyed your round-up on food shoppping in manhattan. don’t know if you’ve been to kalustyans on your earlier trips to here, but i think you’d like it very much – they specialize in middle-eastern and south-east asian (indian, pakistani) groceries.

  • I always fit in a browse in the supermarket whenever I’m in another city. It is such an interesting experience to see how others live. My other weakness is kitchen stores. On my recent trip to Australia I bought a jelly bag – somehing I’ve wanted for years but they always seemed so expensive. Funny how we don’t worry about the cost when we are on holiday!

  • Preeta

    A little correction: Kalyustan’s — a great store, I agree — stocks Middle Eastern and *South Asian*, not Southeast Asian, goods. South Asia = India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka. Southeast Asia = Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, etc. It’s a common error to mix up these two regions, but being a South Asian who grew up in Southeast Asia, I like to point out the distinction :-) .

    Dean & Deluca rocks, no question.

  • Thanks for pointing out the typo, Preeta. Don’t know what I was thinking when I was typing the comment. I am an Indian who grew up in India so am well aware of the difference.

  • Glad you liked the city! Just wanted to let you know the sign attached to the bucket of toads says “Chicken of the fields.”

    I’ve never heard of the Chinese eating toad, though frog is very common – perhaps that’s what they are?

  • Jill

    Yup they are frogs. “Chicken of the fields” is way better though.

  • Eclectician and Jill – Thanks for the info! They were just so big — so much bigger than the frogs we eat in France or at least the size I imagine them to be based on the size of their legs! — that I just assumed they were toads…

  • I really like all the places where we can buy food in NY. I love this city!

  • Beth

    I found your site through a BBC News online story about “digital citizens.” See here:
    I also find Dean & Deluca expensive, and would most likely only go there if I could not find an ingredient anywhere else. Since I live in Astoria, a diverse neighborhood in super-diverse Queens, I can usually find most any ethnic ingredient I would ever want. I split most of my shopping between a basic supermarket and a small organic market.

    I love the “grind-it-yourself” peanut butter you can get from Fairway uptown.

  • but you didn’t try those fiddleheads in the picture? Too bad!

    btw, and yes, my Canadian pride makes this a requisite comment, the best maple sugar comes from Quebec.

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