Family Life,  Life in Italy,  toddlers

To Market to Market

Where I probably could buy a fresh pig. But I’m not quite there yet, Italy.

One of the great blessings of living in a country where people live a little closer to the land is that even in a city of several million people like Rome, I still have access to some of the freshest meat and produce I’ve ever seen.

I’ve mentioned before that Italy has stricter laws as far as GMO and pesticides are concerned, (though my favorite butcher thinks nothing of dropping the cherry from his cigarette into his case of sausages and skinned rabbits and then carefully plucking it out and wiping clean the meat. Shudder.) so things that I may have struggled to fit into our grocery budget back home are simply commonplace here.

The tiniest little strawberries, called ‘fragolini:’ Molto piccolo e molto dolce.

Yesterday I bought the bulk of our meat and veggies for the week at the marcato at the base of our apartment building. I spent about 40 Euros (roughly $50), and I came home with all this:

Meat is by far the most expensive ingredient here, so most weeks I will buy 1 (one!) chicken breast and have it filleted into thin slices, and the result is what you see above: an entire IKEA container filled with mini ‘chicken breasts’ that I can stretch into 3 meals. This week that little box ‘o chicken will yield chicken and pineapple fried rice, gluten-free chicken parmesan, and probably something involving the magical packet of Ortega taco seasoning gifted to me by a very sweet fellow ex-pat whose husband makes frequent returns to the US. And who shares my affinity for all things ‘Messicano,’ as they say here.

We do have at least 2 vegetarian meals per week, not because we don’t like meat, but because we can’t afford to have it here every day! This bothered me at first where the boys were concerned, since I don’t want to deprive them of the nutrients and protein they need in order to grow, but once I realized they were eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables here and were having either beans or eggs or some other protein-dense food on a daily basis, I relaxed a little. Plus, chain-smoking aside, Italians seem a lot healthier than Americans, from the cradle to the grave, a reality which, despite the massive amounts of pasta I see consumed, has to harken back to their native cuisine.

(An aside. According to an Italian acquaintence who is very slim (effortlessly so) and very typical in her habits, I am assured, Italians do not eat pasta in the evening unless it is a special event, like a holiday or a big family dinner. They limit their carb consumption in the afternoon and evening, and it would seem that this has a hugely positive impact on their bodies being efficient in processing so.many.carbs. Plus, she pointed out, they have been eating this way for centuries, and therefore their bodies are accustomed to doing so. She theorizes that perhaps American women’s bodies are not.)

Another huge help I’ve discovered, thanks to my sweet friend Susanna, who is herself a transplant to Rome (from the Italian island of Sardinia. Swoon) via CNA – her husband works with Dave and produces EWTN’s Vaticano, a weekly news show from the Vatican, is Despar’s home delivery service. Despar is a German grocery chain whose selection of international foods is fairly impressive, and whose willingness to deliver cases and cases of water and heavy cleaning supplies is magical.

For an additional 5 Euro on top of my grocery bill (about $7.50), I can have a month’s worth of water delivered to our house. Delivered as in driven to our building, loaded on the elevator, and unloaded in my front foyer. Boom.

Like Christmas, only wetter.

My pedestrian days of water lugging are behind me.

So the grocery shopping breaks down like this: every 2 days or so, a trip to the fresh market, where we buy all of our meat, most of our produce, and a good chunk of our eggs and dairy. And the occasional scarf or piece of cheap jewelry or knicknack from the dollar/Euro bins at the end. Because Mommy has a problem.

About twice per week, I go to Todi’s, the local discount grocer around the block. There I buy diapers, (5 Euro for a 20 pack. Best price I’ve seen in the city which still guarantees the diapers will perform their desired function.) yogurt, frozen veggies, canned goods, and some cleaning supplies/trashbags.

Once per month I visit Despar and import our drinking water, and usually end up with unplanned vino purchases and the stray jar of Nutella, because damn their prices are good. And Nutella is hard to quit.

Ocasionally I stray from this pattern if we’re travelling or if we ever (okay, inevitably) need something on a Sunday afternoon, when everything is closed. Then I have to hoof it about 1.5 miles west to Simply, which is a rather largish and nice-ish grocery store featuring a good mix of Italian and international foods.

There you have it, folks. All the stuff you didn’t know you didn’t care to know about grocery shopping in a foreign country.

Oh yeah, and these guys. Not super helpful, but usually very entertaining.

This is a clear popsicle. Which is a miracle. Also, they wanted to Lady and the Tramp it. Their request, not mine.


  • Anne Bazin

    This post is awesome! It really sounds like you are really getting the hang of Roman living and beginning to thrive. Water delivered has got to be a game changer! It’s the small victories, right? If we’re ever in Rome, I’m coming over for dinner!

  • Claudette

    Is there a LIDL close by to you? We have them here and their prices are quite cheap especially for toiletries. They have a very good selection of delicatessen and a good pasta range called bio-trend. And every week they have special offers on home appliances or clothes. The clothes they get for the very young ones are especially good value. And those radishes look exactly like the ones I just bought .. snap!

    • Jenny

      the water flowing out of the hundreds of fountains around the city is deeeelish. like the best you’ll ever taste. dating back to acquaduct times and all. but the tap water tastes pretty bad, and my boss made us promise we would feed Dave and the boys bottled, because there is so, so much estrogen in the municipal water supply. so we lug the bottles (or have them delivered, as it were:))

  • fabricsandfun

    I want to go back to Rome for the food! So delicious.
    If we go back to Rome soon, I’ll be sure to bring loads of Mexican food supplies. I lived in Texas but now in the South Bend/Fort Wayne area of Indiana- there are NO good Mexican places. So I feel your pain. Or maybe just a little bit of your pain!

  • joaninordinarytime

    You are becoming such a pro, Jenny! I love it! When I was living over there as a carefree college student with no budget (that didn’t work out so well), I didn’t realize there was a difference between all the stores — Todi and Despar and di per di and Pam — they were all the same to me! of course, I also wasn’t trying to cook meals for myself and a husband and two adorable children.

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