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Thursday, August 23, 2012 - Page updated at 04:30 a.m.
Shop off the beaten path for savings
By Carrie Dennett
Special to The Seattle Times
Grocery shopping can feel less like a chore and more like an adventure when you shop off the beaten path. Shaking things up by adding "nontraditional" sources of fresh foods and pantry items can net you some big bargains — and encourage you to try new things.
Pacific Food Importers (aka Big John's PFI)
It took me about a decade to finally visit PFI after I first heard about it from a co-worker who was very particular about her feta cheese (they carry several, at various price points). It was worth the wait, but I wish I'd gone sooner. Now, it's my go-to place when I need to stock up on bulk items like dried beans, grains, spices and herbs.
I'm a big fan of farro for its wonderful chewy texture that's so great in grain-based salads. Farro can be spendy, but PFI carries an organic variety from Eastern Washington for only $2.79 per pound.
PFI is also a must-visit if you enjoy cooking from the cuisines of the Mediterranean and Middle East. Pasta, olive oils, vinegars, harissa, rose water, phyllo dough, curry paste ... that's just a taste of what you'll find. There's even a selection of products from the Netherlands.
Be aware that there are a lot of tempting items here that are priced well, but would probably count as "extravagant" if you are on a tight budget. PFI has a phenomenal cheese, meat and olive counter — but there's a one-pound minimum for olives, meats and cheeses less than $20 per pound (1/2 pound minimum for cheeses priced above $20 per pound). Be aware that they do not slice cheeses or meats for you, but they do sell some pre-sliced meats. Also, bring your own containers if you want brine along with your olives or feta. Otherwise, you'll get them in a bag with no brine.
Cash & Carry
My mother first told me about this place, and you know that mothers are always right. Cash & Carry is a bit like Costco in some respects, mostly that some items come in such huge quantities that you really need to ask yourself if you can use it all up. Unlike Costco, Cash & Carry requires no membership, and there are plenty of items that come in "normal" sizes. It's a nice mix. If you're a serious baker, I encourage you to check out the wide range of ingredients in the baking aisle that come in large sizes. You can save serious money buying bulk in this department.
Cash & Carry's main customer base is restaurants, so you'll find potentially useful items that you can't get just anywhere, like waxed paper "to go" containers and tiny plastic condiment cups (if you brown-bag your lunch, these are great for packing salad dressing to go with a salad, or peanut butter to go with some apple slices). I also got a huge spool of kitchen twine here for about what it would have cost me to buy a tiny spool at an upscale kitchen store. The produce section also has some fantastic deals, albeit in large quantities. Last time I was there, I saw 20-pound boxes of tomatoes for $14.75 and 4 pounds of seedless grapes for $5.98. Despite the store's name, they do accept credit cards.
Grocery Outlet promises up to 50 percent off conventional store prices. I'm not a regular Grocery Outlet shopper, but I know a number of people who are devoted fans. They love to tell stories of great finds, like that high-end cheese with a low-end price, or of "interesting" finds, like the raspberry-flavored apple. The semiannual wine sale is a can't-miss event. Inspect perishable products like fruits and vegetables carefully, as they sometimes need to be taken home and used immediately (which isn't a problem if that fits into your cooking plans). Some recent deals were "personal" watermelons for $1.99 (99 cents with coupon) and seasoned pork sirloins for $3.69 per pound ($1.69 per pound with coupon).
Carrie Dennett writes about nutrition for The Seattle Times; her blog is nutritionbycarrie.com.
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