Italian Grocery Roadtrip Price Comparison

Superfino Carnaroli Risotto RiceWe did a road trip down to Northern Italy in December 2012 primarily to visit the grocery store(s) there. We ate like royalty in a fantastic agriturismo and spent the day with the best weather of the weekend exploring cute towns in the area…but to be honest, those are just perks. The whole point was to stock up on wine from Castello di Roncade and supplies — hopefully cheaper or of better quality or variety — for the coming year. Along the way down, as we approached our destination, we made note of signs for hypermarkets and followed up on them using the WiFi in our room. We settled on the Iper in Castelfranco as the closest in the area.

Hmm. How’d we do?

ItemCastelfrancoRegensburg
Risotto rice (kg):
Arborio
Carnaroli
€1,25
€1,35
€1,59
€3,19
€7,58
flour for pasta-making (kg):
Tipo 00
Semolina
€0,59
€1,70
€2,99
dried pasta (500g):
Tubetti
Ditali
Ditalini
€0,39
€0,55
€0,84
€1,14
€1,39
Olive oil (L):
Various medium-grade local and house brands€3,45
€3,49
€3,99
€4,83 (in a 3-l jug)
€3,59
€3,72
Cheeses (kg):
Asiago
Grana Padano (10 months)
Bella Lodi
Parmigiano-Reggiano
€9,99-11,99€19,00
€19,90
€22,50

Okay, so we can see that olive oil was not such a big win, price-wise. But we loved perusing the selection and choosing between cold-pressed cloudy unfiltered and extra frooty fancy foil-wrapped varieties. And the freshly-baked wood-fired oven pizzas and arancini at the in-house rosticceria and pizzeria were motivation enough to stop in, even without the bulk staple purchases. Can’t wait to see how those stack up against supplì later this week.

Donaumarkt, Regensburg’s farmers’ market

One of my weekly joys is a Saturday morning stroll along our island and over a bridge to the south bank of the Danube to scout for groceries. There are lots of local producers represented there: family-run dairies, butchers, bakers, and vegetable farmers, along with a few beekeepers and herbmongers. Some of them are pure-organic producers, too. It took us a couple years of living in Regensburg’s Altstadt before we stumbled upon it. I don’t think that’s because it’s any sort of a well-kept secret (indeed, there are murmurs of uprooting this market and moving it elsewhere in town), but rather because there’s not trace of it come Saturday afternoon.

To help you warm up, or wake up (whatever the case may be), Moccafee has a tiny mobile outdoor coffee shop set up.

And if you’re very good at the butcher stand, you might even get a little reward for your behavior.

For now, at least, you can find it (nearly?) every Saturday morning on the south bank of the Danube just east of the Eiserne Brücke. The rest of the week, it’s plain old parking lot on Hunnenplatz. Get there early for the widest selection and best ease of browsing. It gets crowded pretty quickly after 9:30 and could well be deserted by noon.

View Donaumarkt in a larger map

Hong Kong Trip, Part 4: Shopping

In February 2012, we flew to Hong Kong for about a week. This was our first (non-business) trip to Asia. You can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 to catch up.

Hong Kong is a shopper’s paradise. Produce, seafood, meat (including meat that is still clucking and quacking), electronics, knock-offs, fancy boutique stuff, touristy trinkets, you name it, and someone will be willing to haggle with you for it.

Wan Chai Wet Markets

Wikipedia informs us that a wet market is a traditional market for produce, meat and fish in which the emphasis is on freshness. Therefore, a lot of water is used to keep products fresh, and ostensibly clean. Despite having a guidebook and the quite substantial size of the market area in Wan Chai, we had a hard time finding this place, and were about to give up and head back to our hotel when we stumbled upon it. Lots of meats and produce to peruse here.

Shopping in Causeway Bay

We started out looking for “Island Beverly”, but gave up (even though it’s supposed to be easy to find). Instead we found “Windsor House.” This was a different take on a shopping mall — it was 16 stories high, but maybe a sixteenth of the horizontal surface we’d normally associate with a mall. This seems fairly representative of Hong Kong, given that they’ve essentially crammed the Boston metro area’s population into an area with a tenth of the surface area. In Windsor House there are two floors (currently one of them is under construction and off-limits) dedicated to electronics. There were some big brand names and/or product lines well-represented there:

  • Lenovo
  • Leica
  • Apple resellers
  • Gaming
  • Photography gear bags & tripods

… and lots more. There are plenty of shops outside of Windsor House as well. I was on a mission to buy a new portable external hard drive, and I had certain specs in mind: 1TB capacity, USB 3.0, 2.5″ form factor. Prices didn’t vary wildly, but they did some, so I gave the friendliest shopkeeper the chance to undercut the cheapest shop — which he gladly took. I found the pricing to be cheaper than at amazon.de, but not drastically so, and that makes me wonder if I should have haggled more, or come prepared for buying more stuff to leverage my total price down. I used the same approach with some photo gear in a couple of camera shops just outside the Causeway Bay MTR stop: give them a chance to compete against each other and then go with the best combination of cheap and friendly.

Temple Street Night Market



We had fun perusing here, but were very, very careful not to show any interest whatsoever in the obvious knock-off clothing and accessories, knowing that those would quite well get us into trouble upon return to the E.U. The browsing itself was the best part. This night market must be well-known among tourists (indeed, our Frommer’s guide pointed us there) because there were quite a lot of our lot out for a stroll among the hawkers. A small stand offering laser pointers attracted me, and I was ready to plunk down for a green one (c’mon, everyone and their cousin has a red one already) when my expert haggler wife stepped and dropped the price by 30% just by asking for it. And man, that thing is powerful. Can’t wait to show it off in my next meeting.

There was also plenty of street food available, and locals enjoying it. That might have been a bit beyond our adventurous eating threshold, but we enjoyed observing it nonetheless.

Department Stores

The vast majority of what was available in most department stores were high-end international brands, i.e. Burberry, Gucci, Prada, et cetera. But we did find a couple of special and unusual places. Chinese Arts & Crafts is chiefly art, traditional garments (padded jackets, cheongsams and the like) and collectibles, but with the guarantee that they are made in China with traditional methods. A nice place for careful souvenir shopping. Unfortunately, we were exhausted and carrying backpacks, killing time until we could go to the airport, so upscale shopping wasn’t a good fit.

Shanghai Tang is a small department store selling men’s, women’s and children’s clothes, jewelry, handbags, accessories, fabric and home decor. Also somewhat upscale, the offerings in this store were entirely unique and the staff very friendly and helpful. It’s a decidedly chic, boutique type of department store and you stand a good chance of coming away with something modern yet deeply Chinese in style.

SoHo

Maybe every trendy English-language destination needs to have a district called “Soho” or some variation thereof. Hong Kong’s SoHo seems to be the yuppy hang-out, with much more diversity of bars and restaurants than elsewhere. We found little boutiquey shops, vegan(-friendly) lunch counters, and coffee bars as we rode the escalators from Central up the side of the mountain.

The higher up you go, the less Chinese you’ll find, until the last escalator, at which point you’re in luxury apartment land. About half way up, there’s a mosque and some enthusiastic greeters outside it, really trying hard to entice the tourists to come in for a look around. And just past the mosque greeters, a guy representing a Christian church (honestly I’ve forgotten which variety) was also handing out leaflets and trying his luck.

The walk down wasn’t as easy as we’d thought, despite being fully paved and populated — it’s quite steep, and I would not have liked to do that in the rain. We broke up the knee-flexing stomp down the hill with shopping intervals and lunch at Café O and enjoyed their free WiFi.

Flower Market

This was a fun diversion. The Mong Kok Flower Market is a district of 3-4 blocks of nothing but flower shops. The incredible abundance of flowers and diversity of arrangements led to some sensory overload. Of course, we were there the day before Valentine’s Day, so the stock and displays might have been kicked into high gear.

ifc Mall

The ifc (I hate that it appears to have branded itself with lower-case letters) is a huge part of Hong Kong’s Central district. It’s got pedestrian bridges to the Central Piers. It’s got direct access to the Central MTR station (and the Airport Express stop). Not to mention its skyscrapers and Four Seasons hotel. And then there’s the Mall. I didn’t recognize most of the nameplates we saw there, but Sarah did: very upscale international brands. My favorite aspect: the bathrooms were nice (and convenient). If you’re into the high-class browsing scene, this is your place.

Dried Seafood Street

View Larger Map

I much prefer the street-level shopping to the fancy mall boutiquey stuff. Every day on our way into the city, we rode along some portion of Des Voeux Rd, proudly and officially nicknamed “Dried Seafood St.” Shop upon shop with large, transparent, cylindrical storage containers filled to the top with…you guessed it: dried seafood products. Sarah even spotted a sign for Fish Lip Jerky.

Personalized Chopsticks Guy in the mall at the Peak

On Victoria Peak, while killing some time, waiting for the sun to come and give us a brilliant view of the harbor area between Hong Kong and Kowloon, we ducked into a mall. We found a little shop with a wide selection of chopsticks, and smiling older gentlemen who personalizes them for you in Western and Chinese characters. It was a great souvenir idea — inexpensive but very personalized.

Bad news for expats buying wedding gifts from U.S. registries…

Our German credit card is generally no-muss, no-fuss. It has a nice, low balance and allows us to make big purchases (appliances, plane tickets, etc.) with little hassle. Until today, that is. My card was mysteriously declined as I tried to purchase a gift from a Bed, Bath & Beyond registry.

Whatever could be the problem? I went over the possibilities:
-I’ve purchased from them before; they had my information on file,
-I just paid off the card last month and
-the card is backed by a large, solvent German bank.

The nice customer service agent at BB&B assured me that my order number would remain in system for at least 24 hours, allowing me time to get to the bottom of this. So I called up BigBackingBank for some answers.

The man that helped me simply explained that BigBackingBank no longer clears purchases from BB&B.

WHAT?!

This is bad. Out of the last 10 weddings with registries in the U.S. to which I’ve been invited, ALL of the brides and grooms had registered at BB&B. It’s often the registry with the widest variety of items at the most affordable prices. This is REAL bad.

Anybody have any idea what BB&B might have done to cheese off my BigBackingBank? Do they have a history of not playing nice with returns or refunds?

Never the same crap twice

Hey, there's an 'E' back there!So, following Jentry’s lead, we hit up the German version of T.J. Maxx which just opened up last weekend on Kassiansplatz (which is mostly just Neupfarrplatz’s appendix). Sarah and I spotted this less-than-tasteful arrangement of assorted letters in the housewares department yesterday. I don’t think we would have actually arranged them into that position ourselves, but we’re also not too mature to have a chuckle.

Oh, and Jentry’s right about two things:

1.

The Kasse and Schlange setup causes more than a bit of a faff. We witnessed it ourselves, even in a low-traffic situation. Didn’t see the indicator lights she mentioned, but witnessed the confusion 2 and half working registers cause when there’s not a clear line for customers to stand in. One shopper almost managed to out-flank us, but we squeezed her out at the last second as the half-open cash register operator waved us over, signaling his readiness to take our money.

2.

The housewares (and hardware odds and ends) section is a bit lacking by comparison, but the offers they had were better than good and I am most likely going to have to fight the urge to pop in and browse on weekend shopping trips.

productive Saturday

Whew. We got a lot done today between 10:15 and 13:45. We’ve got a lot more to do, but so far, this has been a much more productive Saturday than normal. We

  1. got a cup of coffee at Black Bean for on-the-go Genuss.
  2. Thats not me (thanks Amazon)
    That's not me (thanks Amazon)
    checked out a bunch of stuff at MediaMarkt:
    • netbooks while we were there (not that we need one; but they are awfully cute, and could mean we don’t have to schlep our laptop with us to K.C. and Mexico next year)
    • stereo receiver units (been meaning to put my speakers from the U.S. to good use for the last five years or so; our upcoming move might finally make that happen)
    • TVs (ours is OK for now, but it has a mysterious green area which I can’t seem to eliminate – our TV apparently has no degaussing function)
  3. bought a drill, which will come in handy before, during, and after our move, I’m sure.
  4. hit our local favorite Chinaladen for some fresh cilantro, crucial for some falafel experimentation tonight or tomorrow
  5. hit the Edeka in the Galeria Kaufhof basement for some fresh parsley, also for the falafel, but also to pick up some supplies for trying our hand at this sauce, intended for enjoyment with these meatballs.


Time to go cook some more!

Nürnberg Day Trip

It’s so close (just about an hour away), and yet we’ve never visited it save for its airport and Christkindlmarkt. There’s a lot of history there: art, culture, politics, you name it. So yesterday we opted for a BayernTicket and spent the afternoon in downtown Nürnberg.

I’d been thinking about this for about a week since a co-worker recommended the Karstadt department store’s grocery for a nice cut of beef (there’ll be a separate post about that in the form of a review) and our free time happened to coincide with Spirit Asia (thanks for the tip Christina).

So we got there painlessly, exited the train station, walked about a block and found the festival. It seemed about 80% Thai food and 20% everything else, ranging from full-body massage to bonsai trees and gardening supplies. We settled on some overpriced Indian food that was fine — but no Ganesha, even allowing for the carny-food atmosphere.

Good thing admission was free.

After lunch we just started strolling around, crossing the Pegnitz, getting our Fußgängerzone on and some shopping at Karstadt (in addition to the steak dinner). Result: Nürnberg is a nice place. It’s got the old-world charm in its Altstadt but much more cosmopolitan than Regensburg. We had great luck with the weather and that helped a lot.