... you're missing out! And no, it’s not Chez Panisse. Or Cheesboard.— co-posted with fellow foodie, Nancy Li (photos/captions)Think back to your childhood memories and try to remember how you felt when you visited your favorite toy store. The sheer joy from being in the store is hard to forget and even harder to replace. Throughout my life, I have found several blissful spots that make me explode with joy — although I have yet to write about them, Yushan in Taiwan and my godmother’s dining room are two of a handful of these places. These powerful places that heighten almost all my senses are hard to find and to my surprise, and unexpectedly, I found one of those places last year in Berkeley, California. What was most surprising to me was that I suddenly felt overcome with joy and I wasn’t outside hiking a mountain or in the middle of a fantastic meal. No. I was in a supermarket. And I was ecstatic.
|Entrance to Berkeley Bowl West in Berkeley, California
It’s hard to describe a Berkeley Bowl (West) experience in writing but we will give it our best shot. The back of the massive 54,700 sq. ft (5,000 sq. m) space feels like it offers a curated version of everything that grows in California’s Central Valley plus a variety of many other fruits and vegetables you’d find in farmer’s/street markets throughout the world. The produce section in the back splits into the organic and the non-organic section and has a fantastic bulk area with four rows of bins full of dry goods. The organic section is much more seasonal and the majority of the produce is actually affordable. Now that dark leafy greens are in season, I saw at least four varieties of kale, at least seven different kinds of organic mushrooms and a kind of lettuce I had never seen before, leopard lettuce.
|I'm a sucker for value and spend a lot of time at the bulk section
The rest of the perimeter consists of a large and busy meats and seafood section where you can get their deli peppered bacon, massive cuts of pork shoulder or the wild caught, seasonal fish. There is also a huge L-shaped refrigerated dairy section that wraps around the south-eastern corner of the store. If it wasn’t so frigid, you may be able to spend more time thinking about which of their 20+ selection of egg dozens to get or which of the milks to try next: organic whole, organic whole cream top, Strauss in a glass container or in the larger plastic gallon? Decisions, decisions!
|Life without yogurt would be miserable! They've got St. Benoit further down the aisle (can't see it though!)
|A lady ate half the samples after this picture was taken -- goat cheese can have that effect on people
Knowing that the middle section is full of the more processed, packaged and high-margin goods, I tend to skip it. But from time to time I do get sucked in. You can find yourself spending way too much time picking the next mustard or three for your fridge door - how about a green peppercorn or a seeds and suds (beer) one? The same could happen in the spice section where you could buy at least six different brands of spices or over by the tofu racks where you can get organic firm tofu, organic non-GMO firm, non-organic silken or how about some teriyaki, BBQ or spicy baked tofu? I don’t know about you but this kind of decision-making is something I get really excited about.
I still don’t think I’ve done Berkeley Bowl justice. Hopefully the images below will help. But even better, next time you’re in the Bay Area and you’re in the East Bay (Berkeley/Oakland), make sure to pay a visit to one of the best food stores on earth. Fellow foodie adventurers, you won’t be disappointed.
|Bulk meets organic
|The milk rainbow at the Bowl
|J'aime le fromage
|The spot for 'rug and other salad greens
|It's hard to capture how huge the Bowl is, those apples are so far (behind he toddler)!
|Great stop before camping trips
|I don't have much of a sweet tooth but Nancy definitely recommends these
|I hear this ox tail is one of the best in Town
|Wall to wall meats
|Delicious results after a day at the Bowl: Ox Tail Soup at Nancy's!