The Supermarket Bargain Bin Is Where My Dinner Potential Lives

I enter my local supermarket in a somewhat gloomy state. There’s brown shreds of smooshed lettuce in the bottom of the stacked baskets. I pass the bunches of broccolini that have made national news for being too expensive. A big picture of Justine Schofield is printed on the side of a display. She smiles violently as she thrusts a plate of tortillas into my face. I pass the cheeses. A man inspects eggs suspiciously. Alex Llyod’s ‘Amazing’ plays overhead. Amazing? I’m just shopping, mate.  

And then, there it is. My little source of hope in the bottom left hand corner of the egg fridge: The bargain bin. 

There’s plastic trays of chicken and seafood adorned with bright yellow stickers that say things like “Reduced”, “Quick Sale”, “Half Price”. Often you can find fancy cheeses, cream, and even burrata, largely due to dairy’s short shelf life. Sometimes there’s dips. Microwave meals. Iffy-looking meats. But I feel calmer here. Lloyd crescendos overhead: “You are amazing… She did amazing things…

I often start my shop at the bargain bin. There’s usually one in every supermarket, and it’s not nearly as manky as you’d imagine. It’s actually like an adult lucky dip. You find one or two good things that inspire you, that you can then base the rest of your shop on – either in full or in part. 

I’ve been doing this my whole life. I think it’s some sort of learned response to the pressure my first generation immigrant parents imparted on me as a child, to always look for the cheapest deal possible. But right now, my shopping method feels timely. The Australian Consumer Price Index (which tracks inflation) has seen its fastest annual increase in 21 years, fuelled in part by the NSW floods, the war in Ukraine, and their twin impact on the supply of fuel, energy and food. And as fuel prices will soon rise again, the cost of living crisis looks set to continue for a little while yet.

Back at the bargain bin, I spy some sardines, shrink-wrapped and yellow-stickered. And then, a packet of fresh linguine made in Marrickville. I think about the cherry tomatoes and parsley I have at home. A recipe starts to come to mind.

Photograph by Margaret ‘Bottomfeeder’ Sevenjhazi

BARGAIN BIN SARDINE LINGUINE

Ingredients

250g fresh butterflied sardine fillets 

200g linguine (or any long pasta)

250g cherry tomatoes, halved

1 small onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

parsley, chopped (stems too)

handful of kalamata olives, halved

Method

  1. Bring a pot of water to the boil for the linguine, and preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. To prepare the sardines, line a baking tray. Arrange the sardine fillets skin side up and drizzle with olive oil and freshly cracked pepper. Set aside for a bit later.
  3. Cook linguine according to the packet directions. Drain. Reserve some of the pasta water.
  4. Now, preheat a large frying pan on medium heat. Add 1 tbsp oil and fry your onion till translucent and starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two till fragrant.
  5. Add your tomatoes, olives and chopped parsley stems to the pan, plus a splash of pasta water. Cook for 10 minutes.
  6. While that’s cooking, turn the grill setting on in the oven. When hot, pop in the sardines for 3-5 min to get them roasty. They’re ready when the fish is opaque and flakes easily. Don’t leave them in too long or they’ll overcook. 
  7. Stir the drained linguine through the pan with the hot tomato mix in it, then serve, topped with sardines and chopped parsley leaves.

I walk with my haul around the rest of the supermarket. The fridges and freezers hum and clatter, brimming with brightly coloured packaging. On some kind of caveman level, this satiates an ancient anxiety. There’s abundance here. A couple wearing matching purple tracksuits inspect blueberries. Elderly mums walk around with those little red trolleys in tow. 

At the registers I blip blip blip my sardines and linguine and the rest of my groceries. I even round up my total to chip in to Foodbank. As I leave, Norah Jones’ ‘Sunrise’ plays overhead: “Surprise, surprise… Never something I could hide… When I see we made it through another day…” 

Thank you, bargain bin. I think it’s gonna be okay.

This article was originally written by myself for SBS Food, and has been reproduced here to reach a wider audience. Please read the original here.

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