Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Grocery Stores

Dowdy no more: The reusable grocery bag

Baggu reusable grocery bagsCan't really bring yourself to buy one of the grocery store's ugly reusable bags? Here's a fun solution, ripstop nylon bags
from Baggu. They come in every color of the rainbow, Baggu reusable grocery bags plus some striped and neon styles. They're 15 inches wide and 25 inches high (including handles), they fold flat into a 5-by-5-inch pouch, so you can always have them with you. Each holds 50 pounds or the equivalent of "two to three bags of stuff." Plus, they're machine washable.  

The price is great, $8 each or three for $7.50 each. Buy six or more and the price drops to $6.50. Special prints from the fashion label Mociun are $12. Also, if you're thinking in terms of gifts, three color-coordinated bags in a drawstring bag go for $22; five in a bag are $35. Shipping is a flat-rate $5.

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Amanda Burrill is our Test Kitchen intern!

-- S. Irene Virbila
Twitter.com/sirenevirbila

Photos: Baggu reusable grocery bags. Credit: Baggu

Chinese market tour with WP24's Sarah Johannes

If you don't regularly shop at any of the big Chinese markets in Monterey Park or thereabouts, join WP24 chef de cuisine Sarah Johannes and visiting Shanghai chef Michael Lu on an L.A. Chinese market tour on Saturday, Sept. 10.

The tour is organized by Six Taste, an organization started two years ago by two recent USC grads to offer weekend walking food tours in Little Tokyo, downtown L.A., Arcadia, San Gabriel, Thai Town and Santa Monica. Check out their website: They have a lot going on. I like the sound of their Delicious Dumpling tour, which takes in Din Tai Fung and other Arcadia hotspots.

The tour starts at 3 p.m. in Monterey Park. After the hour-long tour of the market, everyone goes back to WP24 at the Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles downtowSarajn where the two chefs will prepare six tastes based on some of the ingredients found at the market. (You get to take the recipes home.) It's a chance to experience Wolfgang Puck's high-flying Chinese restaurant in a relaxed way, and at the same time take in the wraparound view from the 24th floor of the Ritz-Carlton.

Chinese Market Tour, Saturday, Sept. 10, from 3 to 7 p.m, $88 per person. Sign up at Six Taste’s website at www.sixtaste.com/chinesemarkettour.

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-- S. Irene Virbila

Twitter.com/sirenevirbila

Photo: Sarah Johannes. Credit: Kara Snider.

Grocery workers going on strike again? [Updated]

Strike2

Remember the grocery strike and lockout of 2003-04? Are you ready for the sequel? The 62,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union has voted on whether to authorize a strike against the companies that own stores such as Ralphs, Vons, Pavillions and Albertsons. The previous action, which lasted 141 days cost the stores roughly $2 billion. Read all about it in the Times Business section.

[Corrected at 3:10 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said the strike and lockout were in 2007.]

-- Russ Parsons

Photo: Ralphs worker Jenny Perez casts her ballot. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Revisiting G.B. Ratto & Co.

Ratto
When I was  in Oakland recently driving around the revitalized downtown, I got the itch to stop by G.B. Ratto & Co. International Grocery on Washington Street. Maybe I’d pick up some mastic or some exotic dried beans, some non-instant couscous or any number of myriad ingredients that made the market an Ali Baba’s cave for the fledgling cook I was back then.

I remember taking the bus from Berkeley to downtown Oakland with a long list of ingredients for dishes I wanted to cook from Claudia Roden’s "Middle Eastern Cookery" or Paula Wolfert’s "Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco." 

The place was always packed, the checkers fast and efficient. I found aged vinegars, walnut oil, branches of dried oregano from Sicily or Greece, filo dough -- all the gourmet items that we take for granted now but that were so hard to come by then. Whatever you wanted, Ratto had, or could get it.

I found a parking space in front. The awning looked just the same, spelling out RATTO and then in smaller letters, "Since 1897." 

The window display should have been the clue, a dispirited arrangement of silver and blue balls left over from Christmas. I walked in and before my eyes adjusted to the dark, caught a whiff of the old heady scent.

But Ratto isn’t the same at all. The displays are sparse. Aisles and aisles are gone, replaced by some tables and chairs at the back, a piano. The whole place has an air of neglect. And there certainly wasn’t a crowd of cooks clamoring for vanilla beans or French rolling pins. I took a slow walk around the deli case, which is now filled with quite ordinary cheeses and cold cuts, and left. Mistake. If I’d never walked in, I could have kept that memory of rainy afternoons spent sniffing spices and rummaging through the shelves of Oakland’s one and only international grocery.

-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo by S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times

South L.A. gets a new supermarket

Fresh1


With the opening today of a Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, the area around Central Avenue and Adams Boulevard in South Los Angeles has two new supermarkets. The Fresh & Easy joins a Superior just a couple of blocks away.

Customers lined up for a whole block before the 10 a.m. opening of Fresh & Easy -- accompanied by the Jefferson High marching band. The company now has 145 stores in California, Arizona and Nevada, spokesman Brendan Wonnacott said.

Fresh2

L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry said she was "overjoyed" at the opening of the store along "an emotional historic corridor," the center of blues and jazz in the first half of the last century. Perry's office worked with the grocery company to develop the corner site, which has apartments above the grocery store.

Wonnacott said the company is committed to opening stores in neighborhoods that have come to be called "food deserts" for their lack of fresh, nutritious food. He said the produce and meat and poultry have been bestsellers in their stores, which are about 10,000 square feet big and boast of selling foods containing no chemicals or preservatives. The shelves are stocked with a combination of private label and national brand foods, with some of the products reminiscent of what's sold at Trader Joe's stores.

-- Mary MacVean

(In the top photo, customers line up before the store opens. In bottom photo, from left, store manager Aaron Davis, City Councilwoman Jan Perry and L.A. Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner at the opening ceremony. Photos courtesy of Fresh & Easy.)

 

Government researchers want to peek in grocery carts


Groceries

The government wants to know how you decide what to put in your grocery cart.

The idea, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says, is to help families get healthier.

"This ambitious five-year effort will fill in critical gaps in existing data on the food purchases of U.S. households and be invaluable in assessing and enhancing the effectiveness of USDA's food assistance programs for low-income families," Vilsack says.

He announced on Thursday that Princeton-based Mathematica Policy Research will conduct the survey, which will be called the National Household Food Purchase and Acquisition Study.

The information will be used to help researchers figure out how food assistance programs affect the decisions people make about buying food.

"For the first time, researchers will have data that captures key factors like food prices, where food is purchased, dietary knowledge and the interplay of food assistance programs and food choices," says Rajiv Shah, under-secretary for research, education and economics at USDA.

About 1 in 5 Americans participates in at least one of USDA's food assistance programs in a given year.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Sampler Platter: Baja Fresh to franchise Calbi BBQ truck, 1,500-calorie Craz-E Burger, world's largest cupcake

A farmer sprays riot police with milk from a cow's udder during a demonstration in front of E.U. headquarters in Brussels.

Angry dairy farmers dousing police officers in milk, a franchised nouveau food truck and fake restaurant receipts top today's food news roundup.
-- Baja Fresh has acquired the Calbi BBQ truck and will franchise the concept. Nation's Restaurant News
-- Fresh & Easy is expected to end the year with a loss. Fast Food Maven
-- 1,316-pound Guinness World Record cupcake is unveiled at a breast cancer benefit. Breitbart
-- Farmers spray police officers with milk -- from live cows! -- at a protest against falling milk prices in Brussels. New York Times
-- Need to generate a fake restaurant receipt for your expense report? Expense-a-Steak will do it for you. Wall Street Journal
-- Meet the 1,500-calorie Craz-E Burger: beef patty, bacon and cheese on a Krispy Kreme doughnut. New York Daily News
-- Although banning fast-food eateries probably won't reduce obesity rates, some people love the soda tax idea. Los Angeles Times
-- Can an anthropomorphized pickle with skinny legs, high-top sneakers and a baseball cap make frozen pickle-juice popsicles seem cool? Bob's Pickle Pops
-- Can a 20-minute Web-only "rock opera" featuring the exploits of fake rocker White Gold get people to drink milk? Los Angeles Times
-- Six tips to get you the most out of dineLA 's Restaurant Week. LAist
-- The Obamas spend their 17th wedding anniversary at Blue Duck Tavern. Positively Barack
-- Elina Shatkin

Photo: A farmer sprays riot police with milk from a cow's udder during a demonstration in front of European Union headquarters in Brussels. Dairy farmers drove hundreds of tractors into the center of Belgium's capital on Monday in the hope of pushing farm ministers into backing more funds to help them survive the milk price crisis. Credit: Yves Logghe / Associated Press
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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.