COST OF LIVING IN FRANCE: PART 2 - GROCERIES

 

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD

It's France that we are talking about, after all. That I put HOUSING and TRANSPORTATION ahead of FOOD may seem evidence of mistaken priorities, but I assure you that I have a full appreciation of the various forms and flavors of cuisine that I have enjoyed here. Cathey is a talented multi-cultural cook with a well-stocked pantry. Even with the sacrifice of piles of cookbooks and magazines left behind during our move across the Pond, her bookcase today in the pantry behind the kitchen grows and overflows, And we dine at the houses of friends who are equally talented in the kitchen. Everyone has access to fresh ingredients, mostly sourced locally. When we dine out, we have been here long enough to know where to find good bar food, comfortable mid-range restaurants, fine dining, and unique experiences. Let's see if I can make it all sound as good as it really is.

I don't mean to come across as starry eyed, though. Life ain't all strawberries and champagne. (I knew that was bad wording as soon as I typed it. It's strawberry season, for one. French strawberries are as sweet as candy and available at peak for a very short time. Like right now. And the wine...) Anyway, below you will find aspects of grocery shopping in France that are less than ideal. We'll start with that and move on from there.

GROCERY SHOPPING

Shopping for groceries in France is the same as in the States, except when it's different. No fresh corn tortillas. Nearly every supermarket carries that El Paso brand stuff and people have said that they have dined in authentic Tex-Mex restaurants in the region. Maybe so, but they don't buy their corn tortillas at the super. Karo Syrup requires a substitute unless your sister brings a jug in her suitcase...like she brings the tortillas. Every supermarket has a bakery, but none of them bake bagels. There are shops that say that they bake bagels but they don't even make an approximation of a bagel. Just toroidal-shaped brioche.

The point is that there are specific food items that are just not available, or are only available in certain places under certain circumstances. That having been said, there are no really vital dietary components missing from the shelves and for those that are hard to find, there are workarounds.

Meanwhile, your grocery shopping choices here in the south of France are practically limitless given that our village is within 25 minutes from the urban center of one city of about 50,000 and a second of 75,000. You'll find hypermarkets, supermarkets, specialty markets, village shops, butcher shops, bakeries, ethnic grocers, farmers markets, roadside stands and more. Take your pick. Get panko at the Asia Market, pita in the Arab quarter (if you don't make it at home), and fresh spring rolls from the food truck in the Sunday market.

And remember, the French demand information. Is the product organic? What's the country of origin? What's the price per kilo? Stuff that you'd like to know but that's not readily available in the USofA.

During COVID, there were folks who never left our little village. We have a bakery, two butcher shops, a convenience-sized store that's affiliated with one of the supers, and a tabac that sells fruits and veggies, milk and other essentials. (Tabacs are stores licensed to sell tobacco and cigarettes. They usually sell newspapers and magazines., postcards, and sundry other stuff at the whim of the owners.) So we are fairly well self sufficient. But let's get down to prices.

It's hard for me, ten years out from our move, to have a true understanding of the difference in the cost of groceries between the USofA and France. Cathey's sister Connie lives in Houston and provides commentary, though. There's a chain here called Grand Frais that specializes in fresh fruits and veggies, high-end meats and cheeses and seafood, as well as imported specialty items. Connie says that a bag of veggies that might cost the equivalent of 30 or 40USD in Grand Frais would come to well over 100USD in Houston.

The baguette at the bakery 100 yards away, fresh baked and warm, costs a few pennies over 1.00USD. Leaf lettuce, dense and full, might be 1.25USD a head, less in season. And here might be a good time to talk about seasonal eating. The Mediterranean climate allows for a long growing season. We are in easy reach of the gardens of Spain and Italy and Greece. And North Africa is a quick ferry ride away. So while we are particularly fond of those items that are in season outside our back door, most fruits and veggies are in season somewhere close by, not a continent away, and grown for their taste and not their ability to survive shipping. 

From the weekly circulars of a couple of our favorite supers:

Tomatoes - 1.50USD/pound
Yellow Onions - .35USD/pound 
Cucumbers - .50USD/pound
Shallots - 1.00USD/pound
Boneless Pork Loin - 3.00USD/pound
Chicken Thighs - 1.75USD/pound

We're not impressed with French beef, grass fed and almost game meat. Not marbled at all. I just purchased a pound of ground beef from the local butcher, put in the hopper in front of me, and had to request that fat be added. The best beef is imported from the UK or Ireland, readily available and not terribly expensive in comparison to the USofA. On the other hand, lamb and pork are to die for and cheap as chips in comparison.

Other stuff that you buy at a supermarket might be a tad more expensive, but not always comparable in quality, although strides are being made. We no longer require travelers to bring us zip-lock bags. The plastic wrap has improved considerably. But aluminum foil still needs work.

Of course, the grocery stores sell beer and wine, but we usually buy our wine direct from the producers. We seldom pay more than 8.00USD for a bottle of fine sipping rosé, 10.00USD for fine whites, 15.00USD for a serious red. Beer is beer from 3.00USD for local commercial brew to 8.00USD for a good craft beer. I generally don't drink alcohol during the day, depending on 2 liter bottles of low-glucide fruit drink at 1.00USD a bottle.

Enough. You get the picture. Yes, there are street markets that generally have fresher, more locally produced fare - meats, cheeses, fruits and veggies, baked goods and the like. Not always cheaper, though. All in all, I stand by my earlier statement: A couple can retire comfortably in France on two average Social Security Retirement checks.

Next in the series: RESTAURANTS AND CULTURE

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