by Melinda Gallo

An Asian market and much more

In the past, when I have moved someplace new, the one thing I always searched for was a place to buy Asian ingredients that I use to cook some of my favorite dishes. In Paris, it was quite easy because of the many Vietnamese. In Florence, the Vivimarket is in via del Giglio, which is a narrow street behind the San Lorenzo church leading back to the stazione (train station).

When I first arrived in Italy in 1997, I didn't go or desire to go to the Asian market until after being in Florence for about a year. But, then I couldn't wait to find one. I somehow stumbled upon Vivimarket one day when I was walking around downtown. I bought red bean buns, seaweed, soy sauce, rice, tofu, and rice noodles. What I discovered was that they also sold many American items as well, like peanut butter, chips, and cake mixes.

I used to go quite often to get all the Asian items I loved. I hadn't reached the point of craving other American items just yet, but I figured one day I would. Although a strange thing happens when you live somewhere where you can't get those items easily. You begin to crave them even though you might not have ever even bought them in the States at all.

Because of the large American student population in Florence, the selection of their American items has now increased. They also moved to a larger location on the same street. Now, they sell many American items, like: baking powder, corn syrup, peanut butter, Bisquick, cake mixes, popcorn, frosting, chips, cheese whiz, macaroni and cheese, and much more! I ended up buying baking powder and corn syrup: staples for making many of my favorite desserts. Sure, I could use the Italian baking powder, lievito, but somehow I'm not sure it's exactly the same. I've used it a few times in some of my recipes, but I'd rather just use the baking powder I'm used to.

They also have Vietnamese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Mexican foods as well. They even have frozen dim sum and frozen sushi! I didn't buy any, but I did get myself some kimchee, Thai rice, cranberry juice, a can of corn, and prawn crackers (to be deep fried). I have two local Chinese markets near my house, but their selections aren't quite as extensive, so I generally only buy soy sauce, rice, oyster sauce, black beans, wasabi, and sometimes kimchee.

You must have a craving for any American foods because they do not come cheap! A 500 gram box of Bisquick (which is only 2 1/4 cups) costs about 5 Euros ($6).

When I went last week, there was only one Italian person in the shop when Ellen and I were there. The one Asian man who was walking around the three areas helping customers, watched us all very carefully. When I asked him, "Hai il lievito?" (Do you have baking powder), he responded, "Ah...baking powder." He rushed over to another room and pulled it from behind a few other items. I would never have looked for it where he found it.

I got so much stuff (almost 3 bags plus my 5 kilo bag of Thai rice) that I decided to take a taxi to get home. The woman at the shop asked me, "Č vicina la tua macchina?" (Is your car close by) and I told her that I didn't have one, but I'd be OK. Luckily, my friend Ellen was with me and helped me carry the rice.

When the taxi driver dropped me off, I had to lug all my bags and rice up two flights of stairs, but it was worth it. I can't wait to make some caramels and Dave can't wait to make margaritas with the liquid cane sugar I found for him.

I have only gone to Vivimarket once since we moved here last year because it's on the other side of town, but I'm planning on going back. Their selection of Asian foods (and cookware) are so superior that I just can't be kept away!

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