After another exhausting grocery run, I slumped into the apartment. Weary, I dragged a chair to my cabinet, and carefully stacked the cans on a shelf, making sure they were steady. I pushed all the cans to the back, stuffed in all the other non-perishables, and then slammed the cabinet closed so that nothing would fall on my head. That taken care of, I made a mental note to step back when I next opened the cabinet. Carefully, I emptied the remaining bags of their well-chosen produce, and gently placed the fresh fruits and vegetables in their proper crispers.
Later that night I spoke with my grandmother, and told her of my victorious, if lengthy, shopping experience. Sine I hadn’t lived in the neighborhood long she asked, a bit hesitantly, where I went shopping and if the store was any good. I laughed.
“I go to four stores a week,” I chortled, struck by the absurdity. “Some are better than others.”
“Four stores!” she said with wonder. “You go to four stores a week?”
“Three of them are for produce,” I hastened to clarify. “One has really good produce, one is cheap, and the other is really my local farmers’ market.”
“Oh, that’s fine” she agreed.
My family puts a high premium on good produce. Rather, my grandfather made the quest for produce greatness his retirement plan. My dad has always claimed that had Zaidy played the stock market as he did the produce market, he’d have been a very rich man. Instead, we had the very best produce that could be procured.
One summer day when I had nowhere to go, I was taken by my grandfather on a produce foray. He drove past the city limits, leaving behind all the stores I knew. He drove out to a Shop N Save, parked, and made a bee-line for the vegetables. He knew what he wanted, and after turning over this and that, made his selections; he paid and we got back in the car. It wasn’t until he pulled out that I realized we weren’t done. Two stops later – to two stores even further from where we lived – we had two full shopping bags and a long road home. Once we made it back to my grandparents’ house the caliber of the produce made it obvious why we’d traveled so far for so little. It really was that good.
I’m not the shopper my Zaidy was; I don’t research the circulars, nor do I follow crop developments with his intensity. However, I refuse to settle for standard produce. I shop for seasonal fruits and vegetables with an eye to quality and price. Here are my top three produce stores:
There are multiple locations and all of the produce is ripe and fresh. The prices are even reasonable.
Tu Pais St. Nicholas & 183 Street
Cheapest produce south of Hunt’s Point. Along with cheap prices you can find some great-tasting, along with the cheap-tasting, produce. Since the produce is outside all day – and sometimes all night – it’s best to get there early in the morning. Going after 7PM, when it’s closing up, or on a hot summer’s day, can be a mistake. However if you get there at the right time you can buy two weeks worth of great-tasting produce – 3 eggplants, 1 cabbage, 12 peppers – for under $15. To the store owners I’d like to say “Tu pais, es mi pais.”
United Nations Farmers’ Market http://www.grownyc.org/greenmarket
There are farmers’ markets all over the city, but my personal one is across the street from the United Nations – though the same farmers frequent other markets. All year long they have the best variety of apples in New York City, and if it’s seasonal produce you crave its products are sometimes better than Fairway – and usually the same price. Out of season, you can still get great produce here, but the prices might make you wish you hadn’t. I don’t know what the vetting process is to become a farmers’ market seller, but they sure find the friendliest farmers in the greater metro area.
Produce shopping is a science, anyone with the right formula anyone can get the right results. You now have the formula, all you need is the wherewithal. The quest for great produce is long, but the rewards are great.