It’s a good time to be in Richmond if you like to eat

Don’t drop extra bones on shipping for fancy foodie delights — Richmond’s got you covered.

I used to get a lot of packages in the mail; I waited anxiously, excitedly for big, heavy boxes that cost an arm and a leg in shipping to arrive at my door. In fact, just a few months ago, after coming across a really interesting-sounding roasted chicken recipe, I broke down and finally ordered a bottle of pomegranate molasses, just to see it was like.

That was me—willing to drop an extra ten bucks for shipping for a bottle of something that actually costs less than that. Of course, I could always add in a bottle of French olive oil or maybe some hand-pressed, artisan cider vinegar or a packet of wattle seed to my order to justify that shipping charge, but, you know, it’s just another way to spend even more money.

So, it’s a little hard to describe the feeling I had when I saw the exact same bottle of pomegranate molasses on the shelf at Ukrop’s in Carytown the other day. I was idly looking at the cans of Goya black beans and the bags of enormous lima beans when I noticed a tiny, little Middle Eastern section with a least five bottles of it in a row. I was annoyed at first (I’d just spent too much money on this so-called special ingredient!) and then I felt really guilty for feeling so annoyed (who am I to keep pomegranate molasses from the masses simply because I don’t pay attention when I’m grocery shopping?), and then finally, as acceptance washed over me (I’m an idiot but no longer have to continue down a path studded with the financial holes created by UPS and FedEx), I began to feel pleased.

After all, just a few short years ago, I couldn’t buy my all-time favorite sea salt at the grocery store either. In fact, I used to make pilgrimages to Dean and Deluca in New York (actually, I was visiting relatives and the pilgrimage part was a side trip) and load up on all the pink and black and even red salt I could find. Maldon sea salt, though, an ordinary-looking, flaky white salt, but with a tang of the sea and a way of exploding with a briny crunchiness between your teeth, became my favorite. And they carry it at Ukrop’s, Kroger, Ellwood Thompson, and the seafood store—just about everywhere.

Smoked paprika, a spice I discovered way back in the early nineties on a trip to Spain, used to be mostly unknown around here, and I rejoiced when the European Market on Main St. began carrying it. Smoked paprika can make boring old mashed potatoes taste like a savory side of something new, and when sprinkled in garlicky soups or rubbed on roasted meats, it adds a depth and an ineffable deliciousness that’s difficult to pinpoint. Still, that’s a separate trip to make just for one spice, and I was pleased again (without even a whiff of annoyance), while looking for the Maldon one day, to discover several lovely tins of it near the bottom of the shelves in the spice section of the grocery store.

I’m not going to even mention how lucky we are to have our very own Sur La Table (I don’t care if it’s a big corporation—I like Williams-Sonoma sometimes too), and For the Love of Chocolate literally carries most of the chocolate you see anywhere you might go in the Western world. Really. Each time I think they might be missing something, I find it tucked away in a fragrant corner.

It’s a good time to be in Richmond if you like to eat. Although I still can’t find that ever elusive can of expensive Spanish tuna packed in olive oil on the shelves where I shop every day, I still hold out hope that maybe it’s not so much a matter of availability but visibility. I just haven’t looked carefully enough for it yet.

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