Life's too short to eat Supermarket tomatoes

I hate supermarkets. It’s partly the unflattering lighting, partly the chill, but mostly because supermarkets reduce the experience of food into plain old eating, when I like to think of myself as imbibing. You can’t smell a box or a vacuum sealed packet and even the things that you can touch and smell, like the fruit and veg. are scented with eau de disinfectant, and wearing what I think of as fruit Max Factor. So the resurgence in popularity of Grandmother-markets and slow food makes my mouth water. There’s nothing nicer than buying something from the person who grew or reared it, possibly with the one exception of growing it yourself, but that’s one element of slow food I can’t make time for.

Everyone acted surprised when the food they brought from Borough Market under the tutelage of Jamie Oliver actually tasted better than what you get from the supermarket – surely a tomato is just a tomato, naysayers proclaimed, this is just a way to get us to pay more for the same thing – and there’s dirt on it!, but once I shoved the offending plum tomato into gaping mouths and the juice trickled down their chin they were silent and happy to help carry the bags.

Some countries have been spared the terrible supermarket infliction which has been borne hardest by the post war generation, for whom it was the fashion for the modern and speedy that sent them scurrying into the malls. In these countries the markets are much more than the stomping ground of the all organic pioneers developing a taste for flavour like they did for wine. These whirling arenas of colour, smell and sound are like the nervous centre of a place, where tastes are discovered and connections are made. At the floating market in Thailand I was jostled around in my skinny boat in the same way competitors have been jostling for the best produce for the best price since these canals were built, and in Cairo I was almost sick on spices just from being encouraged to try a selection, and having the finer nuances of spice flavour explained to my poor foolish, drooling ears. Morocco and India are both famous for their market cultures of bartering and battering and so much extra colour is breathed into a place when you’ve been in a haggling matching with one of the locals. When it comes to bartering it goes further than flavour and into being a proper full blown experience of a different culture.

If the idea of the historic experience doesn’t inspire then the promise of the flavours will. The tuna that I tasted at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Markets has almost spoiled me for life, it melted in my mouth in two easy bites, and I could taste it as high in my throat as the back of my nose. While the barbequed baby octopus and platter of oysters I had at the Sydney Fish Market were dressed with nothing more than a bit of lemon but were far more delicious than what you could expect from the most Michelin starred restaurants when consumed in the harbourside sun. All because it’s a fresh as you can get it without going diving with your mouth open.

La Boqueria and the Marche Provencal have co-existed with the supermarkets, Spanish, Italians and French have a different relationship to food than the British, and there you can experience the difference hundreds of years of super specialised food knowledge can have on the flavour of something. Everything we grow has been genetically modified for taste over hundreds of years as producers have poured their passion into creating the most delicious, coveted edition, which will be irresistible in the market, so why not accept it and dig in! The argument is always cost over flavour, but you literally only live once and I for one am too old already to eat supermarket tomatoes.

More Flavourful Markets

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