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Embracing Ethnic Food And Revisiting Old Favourites

Posted by Obake on Jul 10, 2011 in Advice/Tips, Gluten Free, Naturally Gluten Free, Shopping

One of the positive things about going gluten free is having to search for alternatives, and finding amazing things I never knew about. I have a real tenancy to reach out and try food that is unfamiliar. Before, it was adventurousness, now it is integral to widening my food choices. But it rekindled my love for trying new things and experimenting. I have the luck of living in Metro Detroit, and being surrounded by all kinds of cuisine from many countries with varying availability. In particular, there is a rather large population of people from Asia and the Middle East.

Don’t be afraid to go to these places for food. You’ll be amazed at the things you will find with a little bit of adventurousness. Also, a lot of things that are very expensive at a familiar market or a health food store are often very cheap at these markets, and it can save you serious money. If you have these places in the area you live, take advantage of it, even if it means a drive to the next closest city. It is actually worth the gas money to drive out of your way for this stuff.

Today, I went to Saigon Market and purchased 8 lbs of various gluten free flours and starches (rice, glutenous rice, tapioca, and potato) for about $10. I even found bags that already were mixed with starch so they were ready for baking! To get that same sort of thing elsewhere can cost as much as three or four times that much. I even found rice noodles in familiar and not so familiar shapes! And a sesame candy that I had to ask how it was commonly eaten. Fuji Market yielded shirataki noodles for $1 a package, which is a steal compared to the almost $4 the health-food store wanted for the same product. Tienda Mexicana had PAN, which I make arepas with (PAN is 5pts per million, which counts as gluten free). E-mart had brown rice, more rice noodles, and is one of the few places in the area that carries gluten free soy sauce.

Then there is the question of familiar shops like Aldi, Trader Joe’s, and Costco. If you have these in your area, its worth it to shop at them/get membership. Costco carries things like quinoa in huge bags for $7 for example, along with a large selection of naturally gluten free things in large supply. Their price for quinoa I’ve not seen matched anywhere in the area per pound. I am a somewhat uncommon shopper there in that I only get 5 very consistent items with a few impulse or “lets try this” items. I generally get my meat, cheese, soy milk, eggs, and mushrooms there.

Aldi and Trader Joe’s you should know are owned by the same corporate trust (the respective owners are brothers), and thus there is actually significant overlap of the same items with slightly different packaging. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t shop at them both, you should, but for different reasons. Aldi is better to shop at first, for all of your staples, frozen, and canned food. It has less of a selection (though that is changing!), but you’ll see that on almost all their packaging, they do clearly label allergens, including gluten. Trader Joe’s also clearly labels gluten free items, and it appears to me from reading labels during all of my shopping that Aldi is actually stricter in it’s labeling. Trader Joe’s is great for selection, you’ll pay about $0.50 more for staples, but their selection of snacks, coffee, and specialty items is competitive. Some things are better than others however, and I advise you to stay away from the sorry bread, but they just got in gluten free rolled oats. Certified. Dedicated fields, everything. And at $4 for 2lbs that is absolutely the best deal I’ve ever seen for them! I can have oatmeal again without going broke!

That is a theme that will recur on this blog. Cost. While I believe in shopping locally, and the point of organic food, the reality is that I can’t afford those things all the time. I do what I can. Personally, I’m gutted that the farm stand didn’t return to its post this year, because that was where I got all my produce all summer last year. But the farm that it comes from is an hour and a half from here. That is not a reasonable drive for me. I do what I am able to, and please don’t think less of me that I can’t do it all. If I could afford it, I would buy locally sourced everything, organic things, all of that. But I can’t. It is very likely I will never be able to. I am not alone either, and I consider myself lucky to have so many options.

Also, I want to prove that gluten free totally IS doable on a small budget. It doesn’t have to be expensive! It does however take a bit of digging to find the best deal. And a willingness to cook. And well, a willingness to try new things. I am finding that rather than try to mimic things that I’m familiar with, I can find delicious alternatives to eat instead.

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