A supermarket opens in the village near Chris Stewart's farm, bringing exotic international fare to this forgotten corner of Andalucia
We live outside a small town (population 5,000) in Andalucía – have done for 15 years. When we first moved here, friends sent us food parcels with mustard, Marmite and beer-making kits, fresh ginger and custard powder.
We shopped at Mari-Carmen’s stall in the market. When she wasn’t presiding over her counter of hideous fruit and vegetables (I can’t imagine where she got this stuff from; she said it came from her own garden but I found it hard to believe that anyone would actually admit to producing the abysmal fare she sold), Mari-Carmen was a seamstress. When we first arrived she replaced a zip in some garment or other and refused to charge us.
“It is only a little thing,” she insisted.
Anyway, as a result of this ‘little thing’ we found ourselves condemned to shop exclusively at Mari-Carmen’s wretched market stall. All the other stalls were attractively arrayed with heaps of mouthwatering vegetables and luscious fruit, but on the one occasion when we tried to sneak across and patronise one, the silent reproach was more than we could bear, and we returned sheepishly to her dismal fold.
It’s interesting the way a cunning act of kindness can enslave you. It has to be said, though, that the foulness of Mari-Carmen’s fare did much to stimulate our own efforts at production.
We were able to escape her thrall with the arrival of the first supermarket, although the produce was not a lot better there. The goods sold in this new-fangled institution were at first a source of bafflement to the unlettered countryfolk who dared to venture within.
My neighbour, one familiar with this institution, once drove an aged inhabitant of our valley to town for a visit to the supermarket. Later, as he confidently cruised the aisles, he came upon the old man staring aghast at the tins of dog- and cat-food.
“There were tears in his eyes,” said Bernardo. “He was looking at the pictures of puppies and kittens on the tins. ‘I can’t eat this stuff,’ he said. ‘We don’t eat dogs and cats here.’”
From one supermarket we graduated to another, as first one then another local entrepreneur sought to catch the custom of the burgeoning foreign population by catering to their peculiar dietary habits.
First it was what country people refer to scathingly as ‘Catalan wine’ – which refers to anything not produced within a day’s mule-ride of town. That certainly pulled them in.
Hot on the tail of the fine wine came the Marmite, the Greek yoghurt, the Scotch porridge oats, and then on to that strange selection of oriental fungi and fermentations so essential to the well-being of the vegan element of the population.
Finally there have arrived those indispensable ingredients of the cosmopolitan kitchen: seaweed and coconut milk. My larder is finally complete.