Sunday, April 22, 2007


232 Sauce

You can tell a supermarket by its coffee and pasta aisles. All you need to know is there.

The more different kinds of each, the fresher (and more expensive) the meats and vegetables. The higher the ice cream prices. The higher the laundry and other cleaning product prices.

Tea counts, too. But not as much. Tea’s a fad right now. Everyone thinks it’s healthier than coffee (is it?) and these days, being British or Asian is cool, and what’s more Asian or British than tea?

(Dining Out Hint of the Century: Never order coffee at either an English or Asian restaurant. They just don’t get it. Or enough don’t so that it’s not worth the risk.)

Fifty kinds of ground coffee means it’s a first rate place. Anything less is less. Even if you don’t drink coffee, the aisle is a leading indicator of what the rest of the place is like.

Flavored coffee counts, though it shouldn’t. It’s a fad, like tea. People who drink flavored coffee will soon stop and either return to the real thing or find some other way to get their caffeine fix (maybe tea. But bet it’ll be plain old Lipton’s, nothing fancy or herbal.)

The pasta aisle should be at least as crowded as the coffee aisle. There should be at least seven or eight different brands, because each brand is slightly different from the others. Once you get into shapes and sizes within one manufacturer, it doesn’t much matter, because the fettuccini is made out of the same stuff as the linguini and spaghetti.

But there IS a difference from brand to brand.

Like everything else (including and maybe especially pharmaceuticals,) the house brand is usually the cheapest and the worst. Often, it comes in the prettiest box, though. That says something. Not sure what. Probably “we aren’t very good, but we’re loud!!”

Semolina is semolina, right? Wrong.

The brands made in Italy tend to be a little fancier (and pricier – though not by much) as the USA brands.

The Jewish brands (mostly Goodman’s) tend to be thicker and heavier.

The sauces are another story. Grandmother’s Sunday Marinara was only better in your memory than Prego. And the various Patsy’ses are overrated. Chop up a tomato and some garlic and throw it in to Aunt Millie’s and it’s just as good or better as what you remember Mama making for hours on a Sunday.

The cold cereal aisle is another pretty good indicator. Do they have every brand, every variety, every size? The more they DO have, the higher should be your level of confidence.

Of course, if you’re addicted to Post’s Yogurt Burst Honey-nut-extra-fiber chocolate whole wheat flakes, you may be in trouble. No one seems to carry THAT.

Maybe you should have unfilled raviolis for breakfast instead.

So, here are some barometers of the general state of your supermarket. Coffee, macaroni, sauce. It’s always the first couple of places to visit.

THEN, do your shopping. You’ll know what to expect.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

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