ARBAT

ARBAT IS AN ARMENIAN GROCERY STORE ON THE CORNER OF ALEXANDRIA AND HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, ALTHOUGH “GROCERY STORE” IS A MISNOMER BECAUSE ARBAT PACKS A SUPERMARKET’S-WORTH OF PRODUCE, CHEESES, MEAT, FRESH FRUIT, GRAINS, PASTA, BREAD, COOKING OILS, PRESERVES, AND DAIRY ITEMS INTO A TINY SPACE.  IT MAY FEEL LIKE A GROCERY STORE BUT IT DELIVERS LIKE A SUPERMARKET.

ARBAT IS EMPHATICALLY ARMENIAN.  I’D BEEN BUYING FETA THERE FOR SEVERAL MONTHS.  ARBAT HAS ABOUT EIGHT DIFFERENT FETAS INCLUDING MY FAVORITES, BULGARIAN AND FRENCH, RANGING IN PRICE FROM $3.99 TO $6.99.  BUT MANY OF THE SALESPEOPLE ONLY SPEAK ARMENIAN AND I WAS VIEWED WITH SUSPICION.  IT TOOK A WHILE TO GET A SMILE FROM ANYONE IN THE STORE.

THEN I BEGAN TO NOTICE WHAT WAS IN THE STORE.

LAMB NECK, WHICH MAKES THE BEST LAMB STEW AND IS NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND.  QUAIL, SEASONED WITH SALT, PEPPER AND PAPRIKA.  HUNGARIAN SLAB BACON AND A WIDE VARIETY OF CHEESES AND SAUSAGES MOST OF WHICH I DIDN’T RECOGNIZE.  OLIVES, OLIVES, OLIVES.  FRESHLY-BAKED LAVASH, A SHEET-LIKE FLATBREAD, BLISTERED, THIN AND FOLDABLE.  A LOT OF THE PRODUCE, PARTICULARLY THE FRUIT, IS LOCALLY-SOURCED.  IN SEASON, YOU’LL FIND FRESH GREEN ALMONDS, GRAPE LEAVES, DATES, FRESH FIGS, PURSLANE, AND DANDELION GREENS.  GO ON TUESDAY OR FRIDAY AFTER 12 FOR GLISTENING BUNCHES OF FRESH TARRAGON, DILL, ITALIAN PARSLEY, CILANTRO, GREEN OR OPAL BASIL.  THERE ARE BINS OF SPANISH, BROWN, AND PEARL ONIONS.  THE CUCUMBERS ARE PERSIAN, SMALL AND PERFECT.  IF YOU’RE LAZY, PICK UP A PLASTIC CONTAINER OF PEELED, WHOLE GARLIC CLOVES.

AT THE BACK OF THE STORE IS A DAIRY CASE WHERE IN ADDITION TO PRÉSIDENT AND LURPAK BUTTER, THERE ARE BUTTERS WITH CYRILLIC LETTERS, FARMER CHEESE, YOGURT, LABNE, AND TAN.  SQUEEZE AROUND A CORNER AND YOU’RE FACING A CASE WITH MORE FETAS AND CHEESES PLUS PACKAGED SMOKED SALMON AND STURGEON.  THERE ARE FROZEN PELMENI AND FROZEN FILO DOUGH.

IF YOU’VE GOT A SWEET TOOTH YOU’VE COME TO THE RIGHT PLACE.  BOXES AND BOXES OF CHOCOLATES, CARAMELS, AND BRITTLE.  BINS OF DRIED ALMONDS, WALNUTS, PECANS, APRICOTS, AND FIGS.

HOW ABOUT THE PRICES?  I THOUGHT YOU’D NEVER ASK.  ROUGHLY 25% TO 40% LESS THAN GELSON’S OR WHOLE FOODS.  DRISCOLL RASPBERRIES AND BLUEBERRIES ARE NEARLY HALF THE PRICE.  A ONE-POUND BLOCK OF FETA COSTS $7.49 AT WHOLE FOODS;  $3.99 AT ARBAT.  LURPAK BUTTER:  $7.79 AT WHOLE FOODS; $4.99 AT ARBAT.  AT $4.99/BUNCH FRESH TARRAGON IS ARBAT’S PRICIEST FRESH HERB BUT IS EQUAL IN QUANTITY TO FOUR MEASLY BUNCHES AT THE HOLLYWOOD FARMERS MARKET.

I HEARD RECENTLY FROM SOMEONE IN THE SUPERMARKET BUSINESS THAT TO A CERTAIN EXTENT FOOD PRICING IS ARBITRARY.  PRICES ARE GAUGED TO THE CUSTOMER BASE.  IF YOU LIVE IN BEVERLY HILLS YOU PAY MORE FOR YOUR FOOD BECAUSE YOU CAN AFFORD IT AND DON’T PAY MUCH ATTENTION TO THE PRICES.  BUT WHEN WAITING IN LINE AT THE CHECKOUT COUNTER AT ARBAT, I WATCH OLD LADIES DOLING OUT NICKELS AND PENNIES FROM THEIR CHANGE PURSES TO PAY FOR THEIR LAVASH, FETA, OLIVES, DATES, AND PERSIMMONS.  AND WHEN IT’S MY TURN, THE CASHIER, A VERY PRETTY WOMAN WHOSE HAIR COLOR CHANGES EVERY FEW MONTHS, SMILES AT ME AND SAYS, “HELLO!”

 

 

 

 

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