When I moved here 6 years ago, like all foreigners, I had to learn how to grocery shop! Yes, abroad it’s something you actually learn! Why? Well, because everything was different from back home in California. Apart from the fact that I couldn’t speak a word of Italian, groceries were sold in different methods, sizes, and quantities. My poor husband, I drove him nuts trying to have him explain to me what this and that was. Now fruits and veggies were easy enough, but boxed items were another thing! So here I thought I’d give you a bird’s eye view of how a few grocery items are packaged differently than in the USA. As a tourist, you may or may not notice that difference, but in case you ever decide to move here 😉 you will be prepared! =) =)
First of all…..look at the picture above of the shopping carts……did you notice there is a chain with a metal insert dangling from the handle of the cart? Well, that is an anti-theft mechanism…..ok, maybe anti-theft is too strong of a word, but basically here’s how it works: To pull a cart out from the rest of them, you insert a euro ($1 in the form of a coin) into the slot located on the handle of the shopping cart (called “carrello” in Italian). When you do that, it automatically releases the chain that attaches itself to the handle of the shopping cart in front of it. When you return the shopping cart to the designated area, you need to re-attach your chain into the handle of the cart in front, which triggers a mechanism to release the euro that’s inside. And off you go! Genius huh? That way, the shopping carts are never thrown all over the place or taken!
Now, onto food. I’ve taken a few photos of groceries I had at home to show you the difference between products in the USA and in Italy.
Yes, pasta is in abundance! I think I’ve seen no less than 30-40 kinds at my local grocery store. While you can find them in 1lb packages or boxes, most families buy them in standard 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) packages. Remember, a typical Italian family eats pasta at least once EVERY DAY so pasta by the kilo is generally bought. I usually wait until it’s on sale at .89 cents a kilo and stock up (….pasta is much cheaper here!)
Flour is generally sold by the kilo as well. If you are an avid baker, you can also find it in 2.5 kilo bags or 5 kilo bags (like in the photo!) I recently bought this 5 kilo (11 pound) bag at a local bulk store.
Milk is one of the main differences I find between the USA and Italy. In the USA, it’s very common to find fresh milk by the carton or gallon jug in the refrigerated section of the store. Here, fresh milk is available in 1 liter plastic bottles, but more expensive than its common “tetra pak” packaged cousin. Basically, the fresh milk is pasteurized and processed at a UHT (Ultra High Temperature) before being added to the carton. Milk sold is about 65-75 cents a liter in comparison to the 1.20-1.50 euro per liter of refrigerated milk. I’ve tasted both and, to me, there isn’t that much of a difference. Milk is sold this way for longer preservation, as the carton milk generally lasts 3-4 months on the shelf in comparison to the 7-10 days of refrigerated milk.
Italian cheese is to die for. Really, it’s just delicious. Here, it’s sold by the weight. You can ask the clerk in the delicatessen to slice it for you or you can buy the pre- packaged wedges, like in the picture. This wedge is well over 1 pound of sharp cheese and was selling for 8 euro (around $10). Cheese is much cheaper here. You can also buy cheese already grated or you can grate it at home, like we do, using a hand held grater….the cheese tastes and stays fresher that way!
Now, the cube of fresh compressed yeast you see pictured to its right is what is typically sold as “yeast” here. In breads, I find it better than active dry yeast. Dry yeast is found here, but at “international” chain supermarkets, like the one near my house. In California, I could not find fresh compressed yeast anywhere? I wonder if it can still be found?
Concentrated tomato paste! This comes either in tubes or in small cans. No glass jars, at least that I’ve seen =) I buy a 200 gram (less than 1 cup) tube for about 45 cents. It’s not expensive, but it’s very concentrated, so a little goes a long way!
Italian cookies =) They are not generally sold in boxes, but rather in bags. This bag was 1 kilo of cookies for about €3.25 ($4.50-$5.00) Cookies and crackers are generally more expensive than those in the States. They are typical breakfast items (with coffee)…..yes, we eat cookies for breakfast! =) Remember, Italians do not eat “food” for breakfast (e.g. meats, potato, eggs, etc), but rather, croissants, pastries, breakfast type cookies, jam, Nutella, etc.
Bottled water. Most households buy bottled water. Water comes in a 6 pack of 1.5 to 2 liters each bottle and is sold for generally 15 to 35 cents a bottle (multiply that by 6 to get the cost of the case). There are no larger “family” sizes or home delivery options. However, the water is very good and you can find numerous bottled water options from low sodium, to high mineral, or natural (spring) water to sparkling water. They, of course, also sell individual sizes like the kinds you find at tourist spots.
Tissue is individually sized! You can find the square boxes that sit on the coffee table, but they are NOT the norm. Here is a package of 36 individual packages of 6 to 8 tissues in each package. Now, tissue is much more thicker here (wonderful when you have a cold!) but you definitely go through a lot of packages individually sized as they are. This package was about €2.00 ($3.50 more or less). But it’s very convenient when on the road and they stay dust free as each package has a resealable flap =)
Last but not least, plates and cups are pretty much ALL the same. NO PAPER PLATES HERE….. all are disposable plastic. They come in normal plates or bowls (for pasta)….generally about 8 inches. in diameter….or extra large serving plates for pizza….generally about 12 inches or so. Cups are in two sizes only (at least where I live). You will find them in 3 ounces…… for espresso or liquor, or in 6-7 ounces…..for water , wine, beer or any other beverage. If you are thirsty, you will have to keep refilling your cup!!! =) =)
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit of life here in Italy when grocery shopping…..maybe I’ll see you next week at the store! =) =)
Have a great day!