Italy. The motherland of cheese, pizza, pasta, and did I mention cheese? Personally, I could eat authentic Italian pizza everyday and not be even slightly bothered. However, what does begin to bother me is the third chin forming ever so rapidly. As a result of this new beautiful discovery, I took a journey to the mercato (aka, market aka, grocery store). I like to think I appeared a cultured and suave American who had been living in Rome for years… carrying her vegetables, baguette, and fresh mozzarella around like a pro.
Unfortunately, this is a sad fantasy that is far from the true experience. I walked in looking like a deer in headlights; picking up items as simple as a carrot and staring in awe as if it were a miraculous discovery created by Italians. Lets skip through the next hour and jump to check out. “BORSA??” A word repeated to me numerous times while I smiled with my euros scattered and items purchased everywhere. Eventually I realized she was asking if I needed a bag (costing about €.10 / bag). Shoot, yes I needed bags. I needed to pay. I needed to pay then bag my own items. What a disaster…the line is growing rapidly behind me and my face has a accumulated a nice red hue.
So here are a few of my tips and suggestions for you first timers at an Italian grocery store:
1) fruits and vegetables – look at the sign on the front of the bin of which you are buying (apples, green beans, etc.) there will be a number in the top left corner from 1 all the way to 100 sometimes. Grab a plastic bag, put as many oranges or bananas you need in the bag, check the number of the bin, and walk to the scale you’ll find around close by. Place the bag on the scale and find the number that matches your purchase. For example, you buy 4 oranges and the number coressponding to oranges is 33. Place oranges on scale and hit 33 on the screen. A little sticker will be printed – this is your price! Voila!
2) Know “Posso avere” This means “can I have?” When you are ordering your delicious fresh cheeses, meats, and seafood, it is good to know how to ask “may I have____” pointing and smiling is acceptable when you are unsure of pronunciations.
3) Borsa. This means bag as you may have gathered. Bring a backpack to the grocery store, it helps with heavier items such as milk and olive oil. But you will most likely need a bag or two. “Si, borsa per favore” (sounds like pear-fa-voré)
4) Lastly, a handy tip: latte scremato is low-fat milk, usually in blue or green cartons, latte intero is whole milk, usually in a red carton.( I found this very important)
In the end, I was able to find Special K® cereal, yogurt & granola, Kettle Chips,® €1 bottles of wine, and Oro Ciok Saiwa® cookies (the best not-freshly-baked cookie you will ever buy).
Good Luck! Buona fortuna!