Last week as I catered an event for a group that I volunteered for, I was mindful of how absolutely wonderful my ethnically rich north London home really is. One of the best features about it is our local merchants. In addition to my butchers, the Tonys’, and the Patels’ at the corner store, my other favourites are the pound vegetable men. We have no less than four of them within a ten minute walk of my home.
In fact, these guys have been a crucial part of my efforts to get my weekly shopping costs under control. I am able to find almost every fruit or vegetable I need with them. Of course, I have learned a few tricks that I want to share with you.
1) Always do your veg shop before your weekly shopping. Like I said, I can almost always find whatever I need at one of the four stands, but there are those rare occasions when I can’t. It is usually my husband’s bananas that are not quite fresh enough. By shopping with the veg men first then I can purchase only those items that are absolutely necessary at the grocery.
2) Be careful what you purchase. Not everything is a bargain at a pound. This is usually true of potatoes, carrots and onions that are cheaper in the grocery store.
3) Don’t get carried away. Purchase only what you think your family will actually eat during the week.
4) Ask about bulk. I purchase a whole box of tomatoes for six pounds. From this box, I can take enough tomatoes for the week, then boil the rest for stewed tomatoes, spaghetti sauce and ketchup. The six pounds box is enough to replace 3 tins of tomato, 5 jars of pasta sauce and a bottle of ketchup or about ten to twelve pounds at the grocery store.
5) Inspect it all carefully. After all, these guys usually purchase the slightly riper produce from the markets to get the best prices.
And if you get very brave, you can even venture into one of the local markets. My favourite is Dalston, but I do it only when planning a large event as I tend to over spend otherwise. But by following the basic rules, like me, you can make a substantial dent in your weekly shopping bill. It can also be more fun as it allows you to engage in a bit of old-fashioned bartering with the vendors.