It’s Sunday afternoon in Buenos Aires and you have a great idea for a relaxing dinner at home. You just need to pick up a few things from the store. My norteamericano naivete says that all I need to do is head down to the supermarket and get what I need. It’s never that easy. Most people don’t buy their fresh fruits and vegetables at the supermarket in BA, they do it at the verdulería or frutería. Meat, likewise, comes from the carnecería, seafood from the pescadería, bread from the panadería etc. Your quick trip to the supermarket just turned into a five store shopping excursion. For my yanqui sensibilities, accustomed to one-stop shopping and big box superstores, this is problematic.
Compounding the problem is the fact that at least half of these stores will be closed on Sunday and, if they are open, the store owners have a rather lackadaisical adherence to store hours (which are not posted, anyway). So many of my meal plans have been cancelled due to the lack of some basic foodstuff that cannot be obtained at any price on Sunday afternoon in my neighborhood . That’s just if I need something basic, like eggs. If you need something a little more exotic like fresh mint (mojitos, anyone?), your chances of finding it decrease significantly. I went to no less than six local verdulerías in my fruitless search to get limes for the aformentioned mojitos.
There is an upside to this seeming inefficiency. That upside is quality, price, and perhaps even health. It’s difficult to have a personal relationship with the fruitman at a huge supermarket. My local fruitman knows how I like my mangoes and never tries to pass off a hard one. At my local carnecería I can ask the butcher to trim the fat off my bife ancho before he weighs it. The bakers at the supermarket don’t hold the day-old facturas like my local panadería does. On a more philosophical level, I think shopping locally for what is fresh and in season is a better lifestyle choice than getting all your groceries for the week at once. At the supermarket, I tend to buy frozen food and things that can sit on my shelf for a month. When I do my shopping daily at the local markets, I tend to buy fresher and healthier food.