May 20, 2013
Outdoor produce area.
I like how foreign grannies shop. They poke, they prod, they know exactly what they are looking for and woe to the vendor who doesn’t get it right. Granny-watching — a completely innocent pastime, I assure you — is one of the reasons I love going to Super King Market in Glassell Park. There, foreign grannies (and their families) from around the world converge to shop for interesting and affordable produce, cheeses and meats, packing the store’s aisles with carts crammed to the brim.
Super King’s produce section is not to be missed. I always make a beeline for the mountain of Persian cucumbers and extensive (and cheap!) selection of fresh herbs before exploring the seasonal specials like verdolaga (purslane), fuzzy fresh almonds and bright green fresh garbanzos. Next to the produce section is the largest array of spices I’ve ever seen in a supermarket, with huge bags of any dried herb or spice you might need for Middle Eastern, Latin or Indian cooking, fresh and inexpensive enough for even the most discerning granny.
The yogurt section is also exciting, if you’re the type of person who gets excited about yogurt. I am, so I’m always happy to see the many brands of all-natural, whole milk yogurt, just tart enough to be eaten plain or with a drizzle of honey for breakfast. I haven’t even branched out into the world of yogurt cheese and yogurt drinks yet, but when I do, Super King will be waiting for me.
I always take a deep breath as I leave the yogurt section and plunge headfirst into the cheese and cured meats corridor that runs along the back of the store, which is always ALWAYS an insane jumble of people and overstuffed shopping carts. On weekends it feels like rush hour on the 405-101 interchange; on weekdays it is only slightly less grim. If you are braver or more patient than I, you will take a number and wait to place your order. I usually just head over to the refrigerated cheese aisle and grab a tin of feta in brine.
I’m trying to be better about knowing where and how my meat was raised, so I usually avoid the butcher’s counter, which is nearly as crowded as the cheese counter. On my first visit to Super King, I overheard one of the butchers, an Armenian man in his 60s, say, “Next…next… Is anyone waiting?” No response. “Oh my god,” he said softly, acknowledging the miracle that is an empty butcher’s counter at Super King Market.
Instead of meat, I buy breads. Various types of dark Russian bread line the shelves below the meat cases and across from the bakery counter are stacks of lavash, pita bread and those enormous rounds of flat, yeasty Armenian bread. Yum. The bakery itself sells an impressive number of different baklava as well as dainty French-style sweets. A separate bin holds big sugared Mexican pastries.
After browsing the deli counter for tabbouleh by the pound, hot-from-the-oven lahmajune (Armenian pizza) and whole rotisserie chickens, it’s time to brave the checkout lines, which are always less daunting than they first appear and also give me the opportunity to do some cart-peeking — another completely innocent pastime — at the people around me. Once I saw a man buying only bananas, an entire cart filled to the top, and on my last trip saw someone with two plastic bags impossibly fat with fresh garbanzo beans, like cartoon money sacks minus the giant dollar bill sign.
The best thing about cart-peeking at Super King is that everyone is buying whole foods — chard and olive oil and loose mate tea and pomegranate molasses and crema and pickled grape leaves — so you can only imagine the meals that will come from what they’re buying. Have you ever had the depressing experience of standing behind some lonely soul in a supermarket line on a Friday evening, watching him buy three packets of Top Ramen, a jar of Skippy, a frozen Lean Cuisine enchilada and a six-pack of Bud? Suddenly his whole weekend cracks open in front of you, quivering and too vulnerable, an egg you never meant to break. Standing in the Super King line is the opposite experience for me, full of wonder and curiosity at the meals in the making all around me.
Unlimited granny-watching and cart-peeking: now do you understand why I love this place?
April 1, 2013
Today is my birthday. But I promise this post is not just a thinly-veiled attempt to get nice birthday wishes in the comments (HINT, HINT). It’s also about vegetables.
You see, one of the gifts I received was a CSA box from the South Central Farmers’ Cooperative, one of my favorite farmers market stands. I am always happy to support the group of people who fifteen years ago took a hopeless plot of land in South LA and transformed it into a huge community garden — only to lose it all in 2006 to a developer now planning on using the land for a Forever 21 warehouse. (See the 2008 Academy-Award-nominated documentary The Garden for the full story.) But I never knew they had a CSA program.
All I had to do was show up at the Atwater Village Farmers Market on Sunday and tell the friendly SCFC volunteer my name, and I was handed a big box filled with organic vegetable goodness. It really did feel like a gift, opening up the box and pulling out my bounty:
Head of purple lettuce
Bunch of huge carrots
Bunch of spring onions, white and purple
One summer squash
One round zucchini
One scalloped squash
One bitter melon
About a pound of beans, green and purple
Bunch of beets
Bunch of purple amaranth
About a pound of new red potatoes
Handful of papalo (Bolivian coriander — I am totally unfamiliar with this)
Handful of unidentified herb
They offer a few different pricing options on their website, the most flexible being the $15 weekly box — only $15 for all of that! — as well as 16 pick-up locations all over the city. At the market I bought a mixed bag of summer fruit to supplement the vegetables and now I am set for the week.
I will definitely be buying South Central Farmers’ CSA boxes for myself in the future. It’s an appealing option for those weeks when I don’t have the time or energy to wander through the market on a Sunday morning or when I want to shake things up a bit with some ingredients I wouldn’t necessarily choose on my own. Or just when I want to open up a box of surprise vegetables and pretend it’s my birthday all over again.