Sunday, January 13, 2008

food bargainza

Due to our dependence on good Middle Eastern yogurt -- none of that hippy-dippy Mountain High (snort) stuff for us! -- I hit the Middle Eastern market on a regular basis. It's also a great place to buy cheap herbs, nuts, and lamb, to say nothing of weird-ass Mediterranean products that once you've tasted you can't live without (sour cherry syrup, carrot jam, turnip pickles, dried barberries...).

My usual place is the Upland Farmers Market at the corner of Mountain and Foothill. Don't let the name fool you; it isn't a farmers market by any stretch of the imagination. Only when you get inside do you realize that it's a Middle Eastern grocery, complete with a halal meat counter, a full range of Middle Eastern cooking implements, and a corner of the store devoted to dried spices you never heard of.

The same goes double for Basha, on Arrow and Sunflower in Covina: double the size, double the meat counter, double the everything (although their produce isn't as nice -- the UFM owner grows some of the tomatoes himself). Both stores are conveniently close to a Big Lots, aka the Palace of Heavenly Crap.

Yesterday I was in a rush. I'd told friends I'd bring a veg and a dessert to dinner, and I hadn't really left myself enough time for everything. There I am, driving up Garey toward Target, thinking, "Dang, do I have time to get to either UFM or Basha?" when I look over into the Aladdin shopping center (on Garey between Grove and Drake) and notice a sign for halal meat. Screeching brakes, sharp turn, full speed ahead!

Food Bargains is about as unprepossessing looking as a market can get from the outside; the Pomona Ranch Market on White and Arrow looks more inviting (and that's a real cesspit inside). But once you get inside, it's a decent little Middle Eastern market. The selection is really small (only two brands of yogurt), and they don't carry much in the way of the usual fresh herbs, but it will meet all your basic Middle Eastern needs -- and the prices are good.

I should note that the selection is small with one exception: dates. They got 'em comin' out the ears. I'd guess a full quarter of the store is dates of various sizes and species, fresh and dried. All I can guess is that the owner has family down in Indio along Highway 111 on the way to the Salton Sea, where there are all those date farms and date-shake stands.

The pikkie is of barberries, aka zereshk. Delicious in rice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Meg--I enjoy your posts always, and especially when they concern food. Now my food preferences range pretty much from McDonald's to In-N-Out, with the occasional trip--like last Saturday--to El Merendero by the Fairgrounds (I'm the "anonymous" who dissed any other Mexican place as third-rate...a small but totally understandable generalization). Let me tell you my problem, before even entering the door, with small markets. This may be unfairly weighted toward middle-eastern, but can extend to even small Mexican markets. A couple of years ago, before it became such a fad, we were in need of some Basmati rice (Mrs. Anonymous does not, regrettably, share my culinary predilections.) Someone mentioned Villa's Market on Arrow in LaVerne (I don't know if it's still there). Yep, they had Basmati Rice, in the convenient 10 kilo bags. I don't know if you've ever bought 22 pounds of rice, but when we got it home, we had rice more or less happily for several days when I noticed some very minute black or brown specks in the rice. Putting a couple under a microscope-- doesn't everyone keep a microscope at home?-- I saw what looked like little tiny scarabs. I'm not sure what a scarab is, but I imagine it is a thing used to decorate Egyptian tombs and appear as weird symbols on Stargate. These were not living, or at least were not crawling, and appeared to be petrified. They were all through the bag. Well, we only had about 20 1/2 pounds left. Another time, I bought some rice at the Walter's Annex on Foothill just west of the Marie Callendar's. (I think this retail outlet closed almost as quickly as it opened) Luckily, I glanced at the cellophane bag before I opened it and saw two fairly large dried flies in the bag. I don't think these were houseflies, or Vincent Price type flies, but some kind of brownish, more or less unbleached rice colored deerfly. I called the store, and then the rice distributor in Fresno, but neither was too interested. So I know I'm giving up a lot by steering clear of the markets you describe, tempted as I am by Buzz's Hungarian sausage place near Palmdale, but I am not into eating bugs if I don't have to._