Bring on the Hört

The next blog-post request from frequent visitors Ryan and Renata was to talk about the grocery stores. Before I came to Europe the first time (11 years ago), I still maintained the movie-induced image of Europeans shopping daily, visiting the market, the bakery, the butcher and cycling home with fresh-only food in their reusable grocery bags. Well, the 21st Century has hit even this part of Austria (mostly). I can go to a store as big or bigger than any Canadian Costco and buy pretty much everything…fresh, frozen and/or massivley processed…all in one place.

However, there still are some differences between N.A. and Europe shopping. For one thing, it is much easier and cheaper to get organic food here. There are very strict labeling laws and the consumers demand it, so it is available.

Meats are also much more varied, tastier and often cheaper. As well as the regular butcher meats, there are fresh sliced meat counters in almost every store with lots of offerings. (They also have these weird pressed meats, but I chalk that up to Alpine tradition and avoid those.)

Austrians must have the highest sugar intake in the world. In even the tiniest store there are at least two aisles of chocolate and candy. (We call the Tirolean women in their 20’s hummingbirds because they pretty much just eat sugar and are still ridiculously thin.)

But I have to say the biggest difference is the cheeses. The last trip back to Winnipeg I went to my mom’s local Safeway and stopped by the deli counter looking to buy some cheese. There was lots of cheddar in many brands and flavours (mild, medium and sharp), mozeralla in balls or blocks or shredded, cream cheeses with a zilllion flavourings and some parmesan. That was it. Now, I have no doubt there are amazing stores in Winnipeg with amazing cheeses, but here they are everywhere. There is an Austrian store chain called Billa, which are really glorified corner-stores, and there you can get at least 20 different types of cheeses. (Actually, and sadly, the worst selection I’ve seen is in my neighbourhood store, but even there I can find over 10 kinds.) Cheeses here are often made from fresh Alpine cow milk (or goat if you are into that) and just taste fantastic. Oh, and here is a little-known fact for you to ponder. Cheese is not orange. NOT ORANGE!!!

But back to Ryan and Renata. One of their favourite haunts here is Hörtnagl, (affectionately nicknamed “the Hört”) a high-end grocery store. There you can find a huge cheese, meat and olive counter, specialty foods, and the all-important Fleur de Sel for a reasonable price. Although you can’t use it as cooking salt, a salad made simply with butter-leaf lettuce, virgin olive oil, sweet balsamic vinegar and Flear de Sel is fantastic and has become pretty much a daily event in my life. (I’ve even adopted the habit of dumping a whole cold salad like this over my hot pizza. Delish!)

My only current shopping problem is that there are a couple of chains of discount grocery stores throughout town. Not only do they have the least expensive fruits and vegetables, but they buy sell-offs of consumer goods and sell them for cheap. So, for example, there was a quality children’s long underwear on sale for under 10 Euros. However, it went on sale on Monday and by Tuesday they were gone. Markus and I did each pick up a pair of Thinsulate ski gloves for 6 euros, but I missed the cheap house slippers. The items usually only come through once a year and are often gone in 24 hours. So now I’ve become obsessed with pouring over fliers (yes, they still have actual paper fliers here) and making sure I pounce on the deals I want. Way to add unnecessary and ridiculous stress into my life.

Anyway, I’ve always like grocery shopping (it was my pretty much my sole past-time in my poverty-stricken university days) and I’m happy to say that even though things have changed, Europe still offers a great experience.