The grocery store is one of my favorite places, along with a home improvement center or hardware stores, it is my favorite place to shop or browse. One difference I’ve noticed is the big grocery chains can’t touch the variety and price of the smaller ethnic markets. Economies of scale don’t seem to apply here as they do in the large home improvement centers.

Here in Chicagoland, Jewel (Oddly referred to by some as “the Jewel.”) and Dominick’s seem to have the lion’s share of the market, and while the boutique stores Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods have their place, I think they are too expensive for regular shopping. It has a certain cache’ but is it worth it? Sometimes, maybe. Mostly? No.

I vastly prefer Aldi’s for staples, and then either a Carniceria or the Asian store a few towns over. The variety and price of produce alone is reason to shop there.

While the produce at these places seem to be more perishable than the big stores, do you really want produce that lasts three weeks in the fridge? Perhaps at the ethnic markets (well, ethnic to middle America) they get the last delivery of the truck and you’d better use it in four or five days. No matter, twenty limes for a buck, avocados at fifty cents each? Can’t touch that at the bigger chains.

I went out tonight to get the meat for the sausage making tomorrow night (smoked bratwurst. Nurnberger bratwurst, and smoked Kielbasa). I did go to the bigger chain for chuck, (anyone know what to call that in Spanish?) white pepper, and caraway seeds. The caraway seed price was laughable. Over seven dollars for a little jar? Robbery! I sadly coughed it up because from experience it was unlikely the Mexican market would have it, and I’ll use it for bread. But let me say, most of the spices at the box stores, say McCormick brand or other little jars are so unreasonably priced compared the eighty nine cent packets of spice at the mexi-mart that I consider it almost criminal.

Back to the meat, I need about six and a half pounds of pork butt for tomorrow’s event. At the chain store, there was no butcher in sight, and it was $2.19/lb. I quickly headed to Carniceria Jimenez for the pork butt. Aha! .99/lb! There were still butchers working. He gladly boned (deboned is not a word!) it for me, no charge. I was in and out in less than 10 minutes.

In terms of price and produce variety I prefer the smaller markets.

I’m leaving some local ones out, Caputo’s is great, and has a fabulous deli counter, Butera seems to have a nice ethnic section and a more interesting meat selection.

If you haven’t, stray away from big chains, check out the smaller “ethnic” markets, save money, eat more interesting food!

Until next time, Eat Well & Keep Digging!

The Gastronomic Gardener
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