I used to complain at length about how horrible it was to have to shop for food in my neighborhood, which happens to be NY's Manhattan. Some people have never noticed this because the restaurant selection in NY is so good. But we are stuck with mini-supermarkets that offer mini-carts and mini-selection. Adding insult to injury, these places charge sky-high prices, too. Some new products that are widely advertised take months to reach Manhattan, where stores have limited shelf space. When a supermarket here goes belly-up, it is replaced by a drugstore, just to give you an idea of how big the store isn't. Is it any wonder that my family and I visit supermarkets whenever and wherever we travel? I gaze in the kind of wonder others reserve for shrines or the Grand Canyon at exurban behemoths with their gigantic carts, enormous selections and low prices.
But I am forced to admit that things have improved. First, Manhattanites have terrific Greenmarkets -- farmers markets that set up in specific places on specific days of the week. Then, Garden of Eden came into my neighborhood. I had a routine going -- to the gym, to Garden of Eden, back home. But that branch deserted my neighborhood to make room for a high-rise. And any retail space in that high-rise will become, at best, another bank branch.
Then came Fresh Direct, the online service that changed my life. It sells food you can cook, food you can heat up and food that is ready to be served to guests. It boasts a wonderful website and delivery, which is so reliable that I have scheduled Fresh Direct for one of its two-hour delivery windows (4-6 pm) before a party in my home starting at 6. Really. Some people pick places to move by the school district. Here, one should make sure they are moving to a Fresh Direct delivery zone.
Then, Whole Foods arrived. And we even got our first Trader Joe's. This was big news.
Trader Joe's as offers what amounts to private-label goods (made for Trader Joe's) and prices below anything ever seen in these parts. Not surprisingly, the lines at checkout get quite long. But Trader Joe's has responded by adding hours, adding cash registers. And if you stand in line with either a BlackBerry or a book, it is bearable.( I had to give up on Trader Joe's for a short time when I found it too crowded to enter during the Super Bowl! But it was a rookie mistake: I went before halftime.)
More recently, after some 30 years in Manhattan, I have wandered further afield for a specific reason. Jicama, a hard -to-peel root vegetable best eaten raw, has become something I crave. So I have traveled in search of it. There are two places that sell it already peeled and slivered -- one of the branches of Greenwich Produce in the Grand Central Market and one of the branches (Union Square, if you must know) of Whole Foods. The whole ones are available more widely. This opened me up to many more purveyors -- and has taken me to the vegetable stand inside Chelsea Market and one of the produce stands inside Essex Street Market. Needless to say, anyplace that sells jicama also sells other items. In fact, jicama can even be found sometimes at one supermarket chain.