Yesterday we went into Derby to take of the regular stuff - banking, picking up magazines etc. What we found there was a wonderful surprise. All through the middle of Derby was a market - lots of French/Italian/Greek/German food stalls (with some smattering of craft stuff).
Being a family full of avid foodies (or greedy types if you want us to be honest) this was something we simply had to indulge in. And the reason is simple. When it comes to it our European friends do the basics of food so much better than the English. That and there is not quite the culture of fast food over on mainland Europe. I've seen Burger joints in France and Italy but they don't seem to be as much in the mainstream of culture as in the UK.
I'm not saying saying that the English cannot produce great food, quite the opposite. The best of English food can be up there with the best in the world. The problem is that it is not all that good if you are a vegetarian (and I am).
However if you talk Mediterranean food then there is so much stuff available. Every time we head over to Italy we find so much regular food that we can eat. We're not talking of a made up meat-replacement meal - the reason we usually choose an Italian or Chinese restaurant when we go for a meal in England.
All of our favourite tastes and ingredients are European - Olive Oil, Pesto, Balsamic and so on. So stall after stall selling wonderful ingredients, pastries, olives, breads, jams etc was an idea of heaven. We raided every French or Italian stall they had - a given really with our tastes.
But the real joys for us were two stalls from other countries. The first of these was a Greek stall from where we bought a pesto bread and a number of Spanakopita - savoury tarts made with filo pastry. Together with some olives, feta cheese, cheese stuffed sweet peppers (which were simply heavenly) it made the four of us very very happy - wonderful. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.
The second of the best stalls was a Portuguese stall selling cured meats (we bought one for my wife's parents - they are carnivores but we don't hold it against them), wonderful strong cheeses and jams. Now I am not a big fan of jams. I rarely eat them. But when I do I like good jams and the description of these was irresistable. 60% fruit and half the added sugar of a UK jam. That sounded good. Add to that the flavours were different, no blackcurrant or raspberry here. I chose two pots Pumpkin and Gourd.
Well I've tried one of them now - I had some of the Pumpkin jam on toast for breakfast this morning. And wow! These jams are superb. And from the looks and oohing of my in-laws at lunch today when they were trying the Portuguese cured ham I guess there is a new country to add to the list of food-heavens. France, Italy, Greece and Portugal. All I can say is wow.
And all I can say is we are now more determined that ever to buy good food, proper food.And I will be keeping an eye out for similar markets in the future.
We collectively made a decision yesterday. Even given these difficult times when food prices are increasingly almost daily we are not going to economise, not going to scrimp at the expense of quality. Okay it might mean we have to make economies elsewhere but food is one we are determined these economies will never, ever again happen.