Saturday, 20 October 2012

Cost of living (Κόστος ζωής)

A lot is being said nowadays about the cost of living in Greece. It's certainly not cheap, but you can still get by frugally. It's hard to gauge average prices because everyone's needs and preferences are different. Here's what I bought today; I have included prices as a guide for comparing prices among countries.

Saturday's shopping list read as follows:
local newspaper: the paper press in the mass media market is probably dead or dying, but in the local context, it is the best way to get news, especially for old people; we buy the local paper for yiayia every week - €0.60
bakery bread: bread (along with milk) is a fresh staple in our house that we cannot bulk-buy or stock up on so easily; no meal is taken without the (sometimes superfluous) presence of fresh bakery bread - €0.99 (500g loaf)
pre-cut sandwich bread: for the kids' school lunches; bakery bread is not really convenient for this purpose (due to uneven slices, crumbs, etc). This bread never goes stale or mouldy, you can keep it in the fridge for a long time and it is often used as a last resort when I don't have a better lunch available for them (usually once a week). This bread is never used at the kitchen table (unlike in NZ - this was all we ate) and I notice that as the kids are getting older, it disappears faster than it used to, now that they are preparing their own meals (they think of a ham-and-cheese toasted sandwich as a gourmet dish). They know I really hate this bread (and the carb-and-fat-filled sandwich), so they only eat it when I'm not around. Sandwich bread is sometimes sold at a discount in supermarkets - bakery bread is never sold in this way, and it always runs out (unlike the pre-cut stuff) by the end of the selling day; you get what you pay for - €3.30 (900g)

pulses ospria beans lentils: buying Greek lentils is cost-effective only when buying in bulk, and I didn't manage to get to a bulk-buy store, so the imported ones (half the price of Greek ones) will have to do this time - 2x€0.75 (500g each)
chickpeas: Greek chickpeas cost only a few cents more than imported ones - I went for the Greek ones - €2.00 (500g)
white beans: same story as for lentils (see above) - 2x€1.53 (500g each)
black beans: more and more 'unusual' (for Greece) products are becoming available to us, and I always live in hope that one day I will find them available at a supermarket or specialist store, so I make a note to look out for them occasionally (but still no luck - I didn't find any such thing during today's shopping expedition)
ham slices - for school lunches once or twice a week €1.83 (200g)
100% Greek milk brands
milk(s): the plural is to remind myself to buy some milk for yiayia; although she drinks the same 2% milk that we all use, I buy her smaller 1L cartons which cost more than the 1.5-2L cartons we buy, because the bigger packaging is too heavy for her hands. NB: if anyone needs proof that the prices of certain commodities have remained more or less stable (with some prices coming down, not going up, since 2008), check out my MILK post for the prices of a number of milk brands. I bought MMMilk brand today, at basically the same price that is was being sold in 2008 - 2x€1.24 (1L each) and 4x€1.90 (1.5L each)  
butter: although I never use butter for cooking, bread and butter is the only alternative the children will consider to cornflakes and chocolate-flavoured cereals, which are expensive and highly processed western-style breakfast foods. They know how I feel about cornflakes (the same as for pre-cut sandwich bread), and they know I prefer them to 'real' food. Cretan (sheep/goat milk) butter is not the most appropriate butter for spreading on bakery bread; it's lumpy, bland and very expensive. Lurpak butter is the most economical in terms of the kind of product you get for the price you pay - €2.67 (250g)
Chipped feta chunks
feta: chipped pieces from bulk-buy barrel-matured feta can occasionally be found at the supermarket for €1/kg less than a piece of feta cut from a larger part, which works out much cheaper for me (while pre-packaged barrel-matured feta costs more than €10/kg). As these pieces break off, they are gathered and placed in pottles. It's the same thing as a block of feta, but much cheaper. NB: they are not feta crumbles - that's rarely seen here, unlike in western countries, where feta crumbles are sold at a premium price - €3.03 (460g).
yoghurt: we buy a tub of strained yoghurt (made with 100% Greek milk) every 3-4 weeks; this is what is commonly known as 'Greek yoghurt' in western countries. Strained yoghurt is used as an occasional evening meal (topped with honey), or in a cheesy dip. It's not something we eat every day (it's too expensive) - €3.18 (1kg)
spinach: every week, I make a home-made filo-pastry pie. Spanakopita is my family's favorite pie. I make it large enough to have as an evening snack one day and cook a pie. Until our spinach starts growing (which will happen once we plant it, I guess), I will have to buy it (about twice a month). With the (only slightly) cooler weather, it's price has gone down to a more affordable level (it was double the price two weeks ago) - €1.19 (1kg)
leeks: leeks are not highly appreciated by Cretans, even though enough leeks are grown on the island for the population's needs. I add them to pies, soups and stews. They are not popular among my family, but I hide them in our daily meals in various forms. The reason why I buy them is because I really like them; they are more commonly used in mainland Greece - €3.30 (2kg)
Dry bread products
paximadi: bread rusks (twice-cooked bread dough, cooked firm) are a very ancient food, and the recipe hasn't changed much since my ancestors' time. What has changed is the grain used to make them. Rusks are an integral part of the Cretan diet. They are used in Crete's signature dish, dakos, which gained nationwide fame in relatively recent times. Rusks constitute a quick-fix meal and they are also a staple that can keep for a long time, like beans. They aren't cheap to buy, but a little can go a long way. Once made in village ovens, as a way to preserve bread and not need to bake it very often, in modern times, industrial ovens mass-produce it, with an emphasis on quality and taste -  €4.45 (750g)
olives: I was shopping at a national supermarket chain today, which never stocks olives cured using local methods. Olives cured in the style of mainland Greece are also very tasty - but the family is used to the local varieties of olives, and if I buy anything else, I will end up eating them alone. This is not an undesirable prospect, but it's not really economical. The olives will have to be bought another time when I go shopping with local products in mind (which is the reason I forgot to buy them today while I was in the town centre - I had other kinds of shopping on my mind)
Locally cured olives are sold loose. Pre-packed olives are always more expensive.
lysopaine: this is Greece's quick-fix medication for sore throats. Until the pharmaceutical industry is deregularised (one of the troika's mandates) in Greece, we can only buy non-prescription medication from the chemist. This kind of medicine will eventually be sold in the supermarket (as is paracetamol in western countries). NB: pharmacies in Greece were never open on Saturdays until only this year; chemists were considered a 'closed' profession. If you got ill at the weekend, you had to search for an emergency pharmacy (this is no longer the case) - €1.65 (20 discs)
cotton buds: luckily, I remembered to buy these at a €1 shop while I was there; they are more expensive at the supermarket, because they are branded - 1.00 (200 pieces)

toilet paper: I could have bought this item at a much cheaper price from a stock shop while I was in town. But who really wants to walk around with a bumper-pack of toilet rolls in their hands, while they're on a shopping errand in the centre of town? - 6.55 (10 rolls)
Badedas: although we buy and use bars of olive oil soap, liquid soap is easier to use and is preferred by most members of my family. Liquid soap is now a part and parcel of the routine of a globalised lifestyle. 'Gourmet' olive oil soap will continue to be made in the future (for similar reasons that Dutch clogs are still being made and worn). It is priced outrageously at the supermarket, although it's often sold at a reduced price if you buy it in bulk or at discount stores (use sparingly, I remind my loved ones) - 5.40 (750ml)
"Yes, my little piranha fish?" (as Basil Fawlty used to ask his wife)
fish - there's cheap fish and expensive fish, just like there is frozen fish and fresh fish; my biggest temptation is fresh fish, and Saturday is the only day we can eat fish (because it's the only day I have time to cook it). The children's weekend sports activities take me through the town centre, where my eyes feast on the fresh fish available at the fishmongers. Koletis fish shop near the municipal buildings offers two species at a special price every day, changing the species daily. Today, there was European hake (known in Greek as 'bakaliaraki') for €5/kg - other times, this species costs €10/kg (for the small fish, and €18/kg for the big fish). This is my family's favorite fish dish (fried) - €10.00 (2kg)
wool: I used to knit a lot in NZ, where the weather was colder, and wool was cheap. I stopped knitting in the last decade, but now that my daughter is becoming fashion-conscious, I've taken it up again to make her scarves and other accessories. Yarns are now fancier than in my youth, but they are still affordable. The yarn for the scarf pictured above cost more to buy in Holland (€7.95 for a 100g ball), where I first saw it, than it did in Greece (€5-6 a ball, depending on the brand). I bought some pure wool today to make my daughter some leg-warmers (2x50g balls @ €4.00 each) and a fancy polyamide yarn to make myself a scarf (100g for one ball - €5.50).
Two apples are lying hidden in the bowl among the last crop of pomegranates from our tree.
As usual, there is always something I forget to write on the list, and this time, it was fruit (apples or bananas) for the children's lunchboxes. There are a couple of apples left from last week's shopping, which I will now try to hide from everyone's view, so that they can go into lunchboxes for Monday, when I can buy some more.

And as happen on most shopping expeditions, there was at least one item that was not on my original shopping list - more on that another time.

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