Food shopping in the ‘hood’

Since we moved to Spain, we are relieved that our  300 000-mile Canadian diet (wild guess…) has been reduced considerably. We use olive oil, cheese, meat, oranges and wine from Ronda’s own  fincas and bodegas. In the winter months the majority of our fruit and vegetables are probably transported an hour up from the coast, but we rarely use canned or frozen foods and make a point of buying goods stamped ‘Hecho en España’.

The other morning one of our neighbours with the poetic name of Maria del Mar told us that Antonio, the local fishmonger, sells a giant bag of seafood for 4 euros. She advised us to go early, or he would be sold out. “If you cannot go”, she told us, “just tell Yolanda at the grocery store and she will pick it up for you and store it in her freezer.”

The next morning, we were outside Antonio’s by 8.30 am and sure enough, the ladies of the neigbourhood were already there trying to jump the cue to buy seafood for their midday meal. The store itself is no wider than a regular hallway, tiled in white with a counter running across the back wall, heaped with fish, mussels, clams, octopus, squid and barnacles that locals claim are a delicacy, but that may scare foreigners, unless you happen to be Norwegian… The goods are rarely weighed, but I doubt anybody leaves feeling short-handed with the host always topping up your bag with a few more prawns! Allegedly by noon his counter is empty and Antonio can take off to have his well-deserved coffee at the bar around the corner.

From the fish store, we stopped at Yolanda’s, the grocery store two doors down.  It is an equally small store filled to the roof with boxes and shelves of local vegetables, fruit and grocery items. En route we met the cheese deliverer, who brings her fresh goat cheese every fortnight, lovingly made on his farm. We told him that we enjoy his queso fresco and he immediately invited us to visit his farm and meet his goats. Gratefully, we promised we would, given that neither of us have ever gotten a personal invitation to visit someone’s goats!

Everyone in the barrio knows Yolanda and does at least part of their shopping there. We prefer her store to the ‘supermarket’ in the plaza and try to shop as much as possibly in the tiny local stores, doing our small share in keeping them in business. I ask Yolanda if she has more pomegranates coming. She had a handful left that she put in a bag, saying she would give them to me, since they were at the end of their season. My cynical self may wonder why everybody is so nice. Is there a hook? But, thankfully no, this is normal behavior in our barrio. Here the pours are always generous and an extra fruit or two are commonly given – just for good measure!

Our next stop was the local bread shop, Panadería Alba. This shop is even smaller and can barely room three bodies, stuffed like baguettes in front of the delightfully brimming counter. Though I cannot digest wheat and thus cannot eat anything in the store, I love coming here to smell the breads and buy some of their wonderful handmade pans, bollitos and tortas – even if I only get to watch my husband eating them… As always, they poped something extra in the bag, a couple of buns or mini sweat-breads, generously passed on every time we shop there!

Finally, on our way home, we stop on top of our street to buy a chicken breast for our paella. The lady working in the store is far beyond any prescribed retirement age, though from a distance her died hair somewhat disguises her advanced years. Like many of the older generation in our nieghbourhood, they have worked here all their lives and will be here as long as they are able to, or needed. Once they no longer can stand, one will often see them sitting on a chair behind the counter, chatting with clients while critically watching the movements of younger family members who has taken up their trade. Her meat counter was almost empty, but she kindly chopped up the chicken breast into small pieces, wrapped it in a piece of paper, and received the payment of two euro coins.

Half of Antonios’s bag of seafood gave us a giant paella, which we feasted on for 2 days. Not only was it economical and delicious, but it was also food from our home province.

Last Friday, Jaime went back to Antonio’s to buy octopus for a dish of Pulpo a la Gallega. It was just after 9 am and Antonio was already sold out. We had momentarily forgotten that we are in a Catholic country and an even more Catholic neighbourhood, so Fridays are of course meat free. Add to this this that we are in the middle of lent and two weeks away from Semana Santa, one can imagine that Antonio is the most sought after man in our small nighbourhood!

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