It’s mid-morning on a Thursday as Erik and I wander through Orvieto’s bi-weekly fresh food market, in search of a meloni. I’ve seen the sliced cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto crudo on the menu at several restaurants and it seems like it might be a manageable appetizer to put together in the kitchen of my little apartment. I smile at the farmer with a “Buongiorno! Vorrei uno meloni per favore.” “Si Signora,” he replies and then turns and walks to the back to choose just the right one. He weighs it and asks “Poi?” Anything else? “Basta, grazie.” That’s all thanks, I reply. It’s fun to have a chance to practice my Italian.
Erik digs in his pocket for the correct change as I put the melon into the shopping bag I brought with me, and we are off to find our next purchase. We need some more prosciutto, and perhaps some more pecorino, as I quickly devoured the first wedge we bought. Or maybe should get some fresh asparagus to eat with our dinner tonight?
The market is filled with choices – from fresh fruit and vegetables, pork, sausage, cheese, nuts, dried fruits – as well as countless tables filled with household items and clothing. Twice a week, the vendors come to hawk their wares, and hordes of locals and tourists alike come to shop. It can get quite busy at times, and at certain tables, you need to wait your turn in a disorganized line to make your purchase. I wonder why some farmers have longer lines than other as all of the produce looks lovely and fresh.
I still haven’t quite mastered the art of shopping yet, often resorting to pointing and grunting a few words in Engl-italian, but the vendors are always smiling and patient and try to help with a little English despite my mangled attempts at their language. But wherever we go, they always seem to appreciate when we try to speak their language.
On most days, we shop at Meta, the small grocery store a few blocks for our apartment, and on other occasions, when we’ve been out in the car, we stop by the LiDL, a discount grocery store down the hill. I admit I find it easier to shop when I can take my time to look at items and read the printed information, plug unfamiliar words into google translate on my phone, and figure out what I want to buy. Nevertheless, even at the Meta, I am forced to get out of my comfort zone and interact with the salespeople when I want to buy something from the deli counter.
The first time I tried to buy some ham – prosciutto in Italian – I learned there were two types – crudo and cotto. Crudo is the dry-cured ham that we call prosciutto in North America, and cotto is what we call regular cooked ham, very similar to the Tuscan ham I buy at the deli at home. I wanted to order 200 grams so I asked for due cento grammi. The young man replied something back to me in Italian which I couldn’t comprehend so I told him I didn’t speak Italian and we had a bit of a song and dance before we both made ourselves understood. Not only do I not speak Italian well enough to ask for something but often I don’t even know what I’m looking for or how it is done in this country.
When I went home, I googled “how to buy meat in Italy” and I learned that I should have asked for uno etto, or due etti,, instead of due cento gram. Italians call 100g uno etto and 200g is due etti. The next day I went in to buy more ham – this time I was prepared. I surprised the young man at the counter when I confidently ordered “due etti di prosciutto cotto per favore!” and when I responded with ‘basta‘ when he asked if there was anything else, his eyes lit up and he congratulated me. I think I am finally getting all the Spanish out of my head and I’ve finally stopped saying Hola when I walk into a shop. 🙂
When we finally picked up our car and ventured out to the LiDL store in the neighbouring “suburb” of Orvieto, we were amazed to see the low prices. The discount store is actually a chain originating in Germany but found all over Europe. We were most excited about the price of alcohol and came home with four bottles of wine, including a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino that we picked up for 14 euros, significantly more than the other wine we’ve bought in Italy, but a lot less than it would cost in Canada ($35+). (We drank it with our Veal Piccata a few days later and it was wonderful.)