Sunday, January 21, 2007

Not near, but Spar

When I was a lad (some years ago) the most common shop in England was "Spar", which apparently was some kind of franchise operation by which corner shops could sign up to be a spar and benefit from their distribution networks and so on. It was basically a byword for the cheap corner shop, and in fact their slogan was the obviously memorable "So near, so Spar". You weren't using the shop because it had a great selection or because it was cheap, you were very definitely using the shop because it was local and convenient. But times changed and Spars started disappearing from Britain's high streets, to be replaced by VG and Londis, and god knows what else. I have no idea if there are still any last remaining Spars in the UK, but I haven't seen them for ages.

I knew the shop still existed though, since I'd seen them elsewhere in Europe. But never have I seen a Spar like the ones that are now opening in Romania - large edge-of-town supermarkets with parking and allsorts. Yesterday we went to the one that's just opened in Udvarhely and I found myself wandering the wide, pushchair-friendly aisles with barely disguised glee.
Fresh herbs!
Basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, and most incredibly, coriander (cilantro for US/Spanish readers). Sadly the coriander was past its best (giving the lie to the "Mindig Friss" slogan that is plastered everywhere), but it was there. that's the point.
Wild rice
I mean we've only just sighted brown and basmati rice in Romania, and here we are with wild rice already
Sea food
Most people round here when you suggest that things like prawns or calamari are worth eating look at you as if you're completely unfit to have taste buds. But here there were not only those two things, but mussels and even octopus too.
Rice wine vinegar
I can't really think of a use for rice wine vinegar except for making sushi and since there were none of those sheets of seaweed you use for wrapping, the special rice that you use, or even more crucially wasabi, it's not that useful yet. But one day. Oh yes, one day
Australian wine
I'm not likely to buy any, delicious though much Aussie wine is, because it costs much more than Romanian wine - and Romanian wine is also excellent, but again, it's nice to see it
and finally...
Fresh rucola
...or arugula, or rocket, or what have you. Rocket is one of those words which I learned in English after I'd learned it in other languages first. Mostly, I suspect because we didn't have rocket in England when I was growing up, and had to make do with lettuce or lettuce. And I can't really bring myself to use the word rocket now that I have learned it because it sounds so bloody stupid. But anyway to find some of that stuff, for sale, fresh, and in Romania made my day.
But why has Udvarhely got this retail heaven while we in Csikszereda have been lumped with bloody Penny Market? The kind of place that gives cheap and nasty a bad name. It's a disgrace, that's what it is. But think of me this evening, while I'm eating freshly made pesto, with a side of arugula salad, and a fine bottle of Romanian red, and weep.


Anonymous said...

I've long lamented the lack of cilantro in Romania. A reprobate existence!

While waiting for my homegrown attempts to sprout, I am seething with the greenest of envy, you complete bastard.

Anonymous said...

They also have agave syrup, Mozart pralines, sweet potatoes, cactus fruits and marzipan. Sadly, I couldn't find any maple syrup.

Andy said...

Rom: A friend recently happened upon a single bunch of cilantro at Selgros in Brasov. It was only one bunch, and he bought it, but on the basis that they obviously sold out it is just possible that they'll get more in. (Mind you the normal rules of supply and demand don't always seem to apply in Romania).

But don't give up. Keep your eyes peeled, and maybe you too could be lucky. The herbs in Spar were grown in Romania in Bihor county (that's Oradea way), so there's obviously some enterprising entrepreneur out there seeing that gap in the market that you and I have been bemoaning for some time.

Anonymous said...

It would certainly be great to have an alternative to cimbru..... (I had idly thought that growing herbs in Romania might be a gap in the market that could be usefully filled - I commend the bright spark got there first.)

thrifty said...

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