8/06/2004

national obsessions: the supermarket story. my most recent sort of cultural revelation came about as i perused the shelves at the monoprix hypermarché in st. raphael: every country seems to have a weird predilection for certain food products. well, naturally, throughout the mediterranean, you'll find the shelves loaded with anchovies, capers, and that sort of thing, but more specifically, in italy, though the supermarkets are generally unspectacular, they always have entire aisles deovted to hundreds of different types of pasta. that one's easy and obvious, i'll admit. in england, connie's noticed that there's a particular affinity for baked beans, and choices of baked beans abound in entire aisles there. in france, i discovered that they're really, really into yogurt. i should have taken a picture -- but seriously, they've got not only scores and scores of different brands and producers, but also a whole range of types of yogurt: everything from whole milk yogurt in little clay pots (like the stuff that formaggio kitchen in cambridge, ma, carries), to types more comparable to fromage blanc or made with crème fraiche or whatnot, to the greek yogurt that's also becoming popular in new york. i decided that america's obsession is with cereal. though the US offers an overwhelming array of anything and everything edible -- and not -- in its supermarkets, few products can rival cereal in terms of sheer variety and number. my own personal obsession for the last few days has been pa amb tomaquèt, a spanish/catalunyan staple of a slice of dry or toasted bread, rubbed with tomato and doused with olive oil. i'm reading a book about the majorcan tradition of eating and making this, called bread & oil (the tomato came along much later to the european continent, of course), by tomàs graves, and all the descriptions of this, as well as vivid memories of eating especially good versions in valencia, have given me constant cravings for it. of all the possible ways to make pa amb tomaquèt (oil first, tomato first, toasted, not toasted, etc.), i most prefer to toast the bread -- preferably from a loaf of medium density with a fine crumb that holds up well through a few days. i especially like the heel, as the flavor of the crust sets off the oil and tomato quite well. i then cut a chunk of tomato and just scrub the surface of my toasted slice to impart a sort of tomato-y veneer on top. a glug or two of excellent extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of maldon sea salt, and that, my friends, is one of the finest things you can put in your mouth.

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