By Laura Virginia Anderson
There is an open-air Turkish market every Tuesday and Friday just across the canal from my apartment in Berlin. Today I went there, with 12 euros in my pocket. I came home with two small loaves of whole grain-sunflower seed bread, five organic bananas, three organic apples, six organic eggs, two fat bunches of radishes, a bundle of white asparagus, two kohlrabi, and 16 euro-cents.
It’s not my intention to gloat, nor do I expect anyone to be particularly surprised by this bargain bounty—Berlin’s low cost of living is hardly a well-kept secret. But I’m still in that dreamy, delirious first phase of being an American in Europe, when every discovery feels like a miracle.
I’ve been in Berlin for a short enough time – just a couple of weeks – that I get a slack-jawed grin on my face whenever I’m walking or biking around the city, even when it’s raining. I’m still thrilled when I hear snatches of German in bars and drugstores. I gaze for moments too long at the friendly, distinctly Teutonic faces of people I pass on the street. I look out my window at the chipped, graffitied façade of the apartment building across from mine and think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And I marvel at the cheap, bountiful food and drink.
Despite the oft-repeated claim among food-movement advocates that it’s cheaper to cook your own meals than to buy prepared foods or go out to eat, I’ve never found raw ingredients particularly cheap in Brooklyn, where I normally live. In New York, I rarely go to the grocery store without spending less than $20, even when I’m just buying for a couple of days’ worth of cooking.
Part of this is no doubt due to my buying biases: I refuse to buy conventional milk and eggs; I like to make my own muesli rather than buy packaged cereal; I will predictably spend beyond my means if you put a tempting piece of cheese in front of me. Another obvious explanation is that New York is more expensive to live in than most other places in the world. A final factor—as anyone who reads this blog likely knows—is a U.S. governmental subsidy system that makes wholesome, raw ingredients artificially expensive compared to processed, corn-laden products.
So when I go to the market in Berlin and spend the equivalent of $15 on enough good food to last me for a week, it feels like more than a fantastic bargain: It feels like a reward for having learned how to cook for myself, even though cooking for myself hasn’t always been the easiest, cheapest, or most convenient thing to do.
Right now I’m eating some of the radishes I bought this morning with wedges of Gouda, on thick slices of sunflower bread, along with steamed asparagus drizzled with olive oil. It feels like one of the best lunches I’ve ever had.
I know that food in Berlin will eventually disappoint me: when I buy a shiny scarlet tomato that tastes wooden inside; or when my German gets good enough that I can ask the vendor where exactly those organic bananas come from; or when, in a moment of weakness, I buy a skateboard-sized 1-euro Turkish flatbread at the market, eat the whole thing, get a stomachache, and curse the availability of cheap, good food here.
But for now—please just let me enjoy phase one.