Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Spain 13: Thwarted by saffron

I didn't tell you about the Great Saffron Quest of '11. How could I have left that story out? It shows how difficult it is to make a decision in the lack of complete market information. It was my walk on the dark side with SH of We Must Evaluate Every Option Before Making A Decision as opposed to We Decide What We Want And Get It As Soon As We Find It, which is my usual strategy..

(See: The Bacon-Buying Excursion of 2010.)

(See: Buying Milk With SH and Why I Prefer To Shop Alone.)

Our friends Pete and Julie had asked us to pick up some saffron when we were in Spain. I checked's prices before we left to get a good reference price.

I always do my research.

Except when I buy expensive Moroccan rugs. Then, I make an impulse decision despite Megan's warning NOT TO BUY A RUG IN FEZ OR YOU WILL PAY TOO MUCH.

I saw some saffron on the site for $15 a gram.

So we had to find a price better than $15 a gram to buy in Spain.

On our first day in Toledo, we started looking for saffron. It wasn't ubiquitous, but it was not hard to find. The first batch we saw was eight euros a gram, which is close to $15 but there wouldn't have been any shipping. As we wandered more and more through town, the prices dropped. We saw saffron in one store for three euros a gram.

"Toledo is a big tourist town," I said. "I'll be it will be even cheaper in Madrid. We can just get it from a grocery store. These are all tourist shops! The prices are higher here!"

SH agreed with me.

Which he shouldn't have done.

Why did he waste one of his rare instances of agreeing with me on a time when agreement was not the right thing to do?

When we got to Madrid, we went to the grocery store in the basement of El Corte Ingles.

We found the saffron.

It was six euros a gram.


It was Christmas Eve. We still had to buy shoes. We didn't have time.

But six euros was too much. We didn't get it.

We did buy some cheese, because we don't get enough cheese at home. We had to use the rest of our little stash of cash because El Corte Ingles will not take a credit card unless you show ID and we had left out passports in the safe at the hotel.

That was a pain in the neck, although not as frustrating as when a store says they'll take a credit card but then the card reader won't read it because it's an American credit card. They won't key it in because they don't do that. Shrug. If you are the train ticket seller in Paris, what do you care if I can't buy a ticket with my credit card and haven't gotten any cash yet? Will you lose your job if you don't sell enough tickets? Will you lose your job if those Americans can't use their Mastercard even though your sign says you accept Mastercard? Nope.

When I complained to my credit card company about the hassle I had had with my Mastercard when we were in Paris, they shrugged and told me that the card was supposed to be accepted everywhere and we couldn't possibly have had a problem.

We looked for saffron at the airport, which was the act of truly desperate persons because who goes to the airport for a bargain?

Ten euros a gram. TEN. That's $13 a gram to you and moi.

So we didn't buy it.

We love our friends, but ten euros a gram is too much.

Instead, when we visited them for New Years, I gave them a bunch of the cheap saffron we got in Morocco. It's probably a mixture of a tiny bit of saffron and some daisies or some other orange flower. Which I guess would not be daisies. Zinnias, maybe? I have forgotten what flowers look like. All I see when I look outside is mud and snow. Mud is better than snow, but it's still not as good as flowers.

When Pete, Julie, SH, and I went to Marshall's in search of something, we browsed the food shelf. I always look at the food there because you never know. You might find the Spanish pimenton you got in Madrid that you thought was so special only here it is on the shelf at Marshall's or TJMaxx or wherever.

We saw saffron.

From Spain.

For $5 a gram.

Our inability to buy in Spain was rewarded.


Beryl said...

$5 a gram? Perfect! I should find a Marshals.
That business about not having the European chip in the Mastercard is maddening! You can't even rent one of those bikes on the street without it. I am determined to get my bank to give me a card with a chip before I go back.

Joy said...

The flower is usually marigold, and in many dishes from the Caucasus and Central Asia, marigold (not saffron) is called for, but referred to as shafran.

I think you should tell yourself that the 3-euro stuff was actually adulterated fake saffron, not the real thing. That way, you didn't miss a great deal, you avoided a scam!

Class factotum said...

Beryl, maybe you should just take a trip to Spain instead!

I get so annoyed about the CC. I even notify my CC company before we leave that YES, IT IS I CHARGING IN SPAIN! But the card gets declined. Maddening.

Joy, I didn't know there was a similar (fakey) product. Yes, I'm sure that's what I didn't get!

Rubiatonta said...

I don't understand why banks don't have chip and pin credit cards in the U.S. -- they're much harder to clone, and thus a lot more secure.

About saffron -- there are a number of reasons that it's so dear. Of course, it all has to be harvested by hand, for starters. But it's also quite fragile, and easily affected by changes in temperature and relative humidity, not to mention the passage of time. Good saffron is always labeled with its harvest date. By the time saffron has made it Marshall's, it's almost certainly past its peak and won't taste like much of anything.

Not to rain on your retail triumph or anything, of course.

Class factotum said...

Rubi, but even old saffron makes your risotto orange, so people think they're getting the fancy food.

Rubiatonta said...

Ah, spoken like the people who just dump turmeric in the paella and serve it to the British tourists in Benidorm...