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From Bay Area to Barcelona

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Produce Prices [ Thursday, 04 Aug 05 | 08:52 ]
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California and Spain grow some of the same products since their climates are similar. Now that summer is full swing, there are lots of fresh fruit and vegetables available. At the Alcampo store I bought some tomates en rama (tomatos on the vine) for 0,99 € a kilo. That’s about $0.50 a pound. The tomatos are of good size, meaty, and flavorful. I can’t remember when I have bought tomatos that cheap in California. Even at Costco they run about $2 a pound.

Peaches are also in abundance. The price for melocotón rojo (red peaches) was also 0,99 € a kilo. When I was at Albertson’s last month, they were selling peaches for $3 a pound. I don’t know why produce is so much cheaper here in Spain, it looks as good as what you see in the States.

And at Alcampo they write on chalkboards the variety and locale where the produce is grown. I seldom have seen that except for things like apples in California. For tomatos there are at least a half-dozen different varieties being sold.

Olive oil is another staple here in Spain. At Alcampo probably 90% of the vegetable oil sold is olive oil. It’s about the reverse in California. A liter of extra virgin olive oil runs about 3 € here, as compared to three times that for oil of questionable parentage in California. I say that because most olive oil sold in the States is marked as “product of Italy”, which means that it was probably bottled there and not much else. Because of marketing, Italian products garner higher prices than Spanish products. California grown olive oil is even more expensive than foreign products.

While we’re at it, the terms “virgin” and “extra virgin” as it relates to olive oil have no meaning in the US. USDA labeling uses terms like “Grade A” and “fancy”. But of course USDA labeling is optional. And the US has not signed the international olive oil agreement which regulates the use of the terms “virgin” and “extra virgin”.

This is similar to agreements for Champagne and Asti Spumante. Spanish sparkling wine is called cava or “cave”. Cava is more popular than sparkling wine in the States. You often see people drinking it in lieu of still wine. Prices for Spanish wines are about half of what they are in California. The cheapest wine I have seen at Alcampo is 0,44 € a liter! You can find some very good wines here for under 5 € a bottle.

Tromba de agua
Tromba de agua is castellano for cloudburst. Monday night we had a couple of thundershowers, but the sky cleared during the day. I headed into town for my weekly meal at El Rodizio, an all-you-can-eat place that specializes in grilled meat. Afterwards, I was walking along Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes or Gran Via for short and noticed some billowing cumulus clouds to the north. A few minutes later there was an “anvil” on top and the underside became a menacing grey. The clouds were also coming closer.

It then began to thunder and lightning. Each stroke seemed closer, based on counting the seconds between the flash and the rumble. It started to rain. The rain became stronger. The street became an instant river within seconds. Several times the lightning and thunder were almost instantaneous with a loud “crack”. I knew that meant it was very close by.

A half an hour later and it was all over. Clear sky began to take the place of thunder-bumpers. On the train ride home I glanced at the Rió Besós and noticed it was swollen with muddy water.

The comarca or area that I live in is famous for la gota fría or “the cold drop” that occurs at the end of August and the month of September. The marine air, laden with moisture, in combination with surface instability and cold air aloft leads to rapid cloud development and ultimately to cloudbursts.

Wednesday morning it was cooler, around 19°C (or 66°F) and much drier. The Mediterranean was a sapphire blue and the Barcelona skyline was distinct.