Friday, April 18, 2008
grocery notes from all over
Yes, boys and girls, it's time for another installment in the Exciting Shopping Adventures of Meg!
The other day I finally checked out Fresh & Easy on Mountain and Arrow in Montclair. In case you missed the hubbub in the press and the local blogosphere when they opened back in the fall, F&E is a venture by Tesco, the British supermarket chain, aimed at busy people stopping on their way home from work.
After the initial fizz, I've heard a fair amount of grumbling about F&E, so I was pleasantly surprised by certain things, even if my low expectations were met in other ways.
High points: Good prices on some things (hummus -- which was much better than the usual storebought -- broccoli, fancy bread, dried pasta). Oil-roasted tomatoes like the ones that are so popular in the UK. Provenance labeling of all their fish ("line-caught in the North Sea"; "farmed in Chile"). European yogurts (but, sadly, no rhubarb flavor). Various products you'd never expect to see, like Spanish chorizo.
Low points: The same cheeses you'd get at Von's. Wine selection and prices very ehhhh. Underwhelming ready-meals (despite the fact that that's what English supermarkets do so well).
One more thing: The ingredient lists of anything prepared are a breath of fresh air. Not only are they completely lacking in what a friend calls "shampoo ingredients" (synthesized compounds that could just as easily be on a bottle of shampoo, like PGPR), but they also lack the "natural" ingredients we don't have in our homes, like guar gum and carageenan. Everything I looked at only contained the stuff I would use to make the item in my own kitchen. And I didn't find a single F&E product that contained high fructose corn syrup! Not surprising, given the UK's lack of a giant corn industry + subsidy, but it's still a welcome change.
Overall, there's a place for F&E in my shopping adventures, although only if I'm out that way anyhow. A lot of folks were disappointed when F&E opened that it didn't serve up a whole host of British delicacies (and not-so-delicacies), but I'm surprised at the little ways in which the Britishness expresses itself.