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?