The selection and preparation (and consumption) of food is an effort I take seriously. Making and sharing good food is a wonderful part of life.
After growing up in California for most of my life, living in Lebanon for the past few years changed my relationship to food markets. Hole in the wall fruit & vegetable shops, corner butchers and family-owned neighborhood mini-marts are preferred places to get daily ingredients. Despite the growing “green, organic, farmer’s market” movement in Southern California, massive chain stores still dominate grocery market options. There, red-tags flag the bargains of the day throughout the seemingly endless walls of stuff. The fruits and vegetables are waxed and shined imitations of themselves. They are tasteless, like the idea buying a sweatsuit, a bicycle and apples from the same place. The dull hum of the florescent lights serves as the soundtrack of the shopping experience. It’s not the tantalizing place portrayed in the TV commercials.
Then came the Arab market
Ever since we first found out it existed, my family would go to King Market, or what we called the Arab market, every Sunday. I loved that place plus it used to be next door to a Lebanese fast food restaurant called Zankou Chicken that served decent shawarma and falafel where we would eat before or after our grocery shopping mission. Eventually, they moved locations when they needed more space accommodate the growing number of grocery shoppers looking for something real, but the feeling was the same. My parents stocked up on the week’s imperfect but appetizing fruits and vegetables, and everything else we needed to make Lebanese food in America.
Especially on Sundays it is a place of chaos. People bumping into each other while maneuvering down the narrow aisles. Unrecognizable languages being hurled over heads of romaine lettuce. Kids screaming, old ladies wining. It’s wild and crude and wonderful.
Food shopping in Oslo
The bright and polished supermarkets of Oslo cater to the easy-going Norwegian attitude toward food. The idea is the same, but they are different than American grocery stores. Dairy products, meats, frozen & boxed foods and plastic wrapped vegetables take the majority of space with a sizable beer section, and small aisles stock coffee, jams, paper products and Norwegian-made chocolates and sweets. They are minimal and have just enough to make a basic meal.
The Grønland Market
Luckily, I found my own Arab market in Oslo. The first time I went to the Grønland market, I understood what my parents must have felt to find it’s American cousin.
The market caters to immigrant communities. Africans, Arabs and Asians flock to this place to find things they would never even look for in chain grocery stores. I can now make moughrabieh, mujaddara and cousa in Oslo; all the things that remind me of home. Even ingredients needed for European fare can be found at much lower prices.
Inside, the loosely stacked seasonal fruits and vegetables have their own wing. You can find the standard selection plus less common things like pomegranates, loquats, Persian cucumbers, small zucchini, 8 types of mushrooms, 4 types of lettuce, 5 types of chili peppers, avocados by the bag, plantains, alfalfa sprouts…the list goes on!
If you’re interested in diverging from loafs of bread, the Grønland market has flat Iranian bread, naan and Turkish rolls brought in daily from local bakeries. The spice aisle has hundreds of powdered herbs, seeds, and nuts used to make foods from Italy to the Philippines.
There’s a entire room dedicated to rice, pastas and oils. Varieties of dry beans and lentils, yogurts and honeys; seriously, what more do you need from a food market? It’s perfect!
PHOTOS FROM GRØNLAND MARKET
This chaotic, multi-lingual food haven is my favorite place in the city.
So, Norwegians, I implore you to spice up your lives and try grocery shopping there at least once. You’ll save money and you might never look at grocery chains that same again.
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