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SHOPTALK : Szechuan-Style Duck Sauce Is Hot and Spicy--and It's Kosher : Passover fare can go beyond basics, but for those who must have their gefilte fish, there's a red-tag special.

March 24, 1994|LEO SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OK, so gefilte fish is an acquired taste, and a red-tag sale on the item doesn't cause most Ventura County residents to cartwheel down the ethnic food aisle at the local market.

But the truth of the matter is that the Jewish holiday of Passover begins at sundown Saturday, and the fishy, jellied food is a Passover staple. Which doesn't mean that every devout Jew has to eat the stuff.

Just because most major grocery stores have rummaged through the basements and pulled out the old Passover displays doesn't mean that you have to eat the same old Passover food. There is always some new culinary item to ponder.

Take Hughes market in Camarillo, where we found, fairly well-hidden among the matzos and the macaroons, some jars of Gold's Szechuan-Style Duck Sauce (hot and spicy and kosher for Passover). A 40-ounce container was $3.29.

Last week, in addition to visiting Hughes, we strolled the aisles of the Ralphs grocery store in Oxnard and Vons in Ojai to get an idea of the selection out there.

As it typically does, Hughes had by far the largest selection of kosher-for-Passover items. It had, for example, Elite instant coffee (7 ounces for $3.99), Rokeach Italian salad dressing (8 ounces for $2.19), Osem instant pudding mix (2 7/8 ounces for 79 cents) and instant mashed potatoes (5 3/4 ounces for $2.29), which the other stores didn't offer.

And on staple items that all three stores had on their shelves--such as Passover matzos and gefilte fish--Hughes generally had the largest variety of brands from which to chose.

But what about price, you ask?

Let's start with matzo. (Keep in mind, this is Passover matzo, not the usual everyday kind; for an explanation of the difference, consult your local rabbi.) All three stores seemed to be pushing the 5-pound packages. At Hughes, the Manischewitz 5-pounder was $8.89 (limit one per customer); at Vons, it was $9.99 and at Ralphs $11.99.

Single boxes of Manischewitz matzos were $2.19 at Hughes and Vons. Ralphs was selling Streit's matzos for $2.99 a box and non-Passover matzos for $2.29. Hughes, by the way, had five brands of matzo, of varying price. What's the difference between one brand of unleavened wheat and flour and another brand of unleavened wheat and flour? You decide.

On to gefilte fish. A 24-ounce jar of Manischewitz fish was priced at $3.99 at all three stores. At Hughes, where there was, indeed, a red-tag sale on many of the gefilte fish items, there were several brands available. Mrs. Adler's (24 ounces) was $2.49, Rokeach (24 ounces) was $4.19 and Mother's (10 ounces, low sodium) was $2.79.

All three stores were well-stocked in Passover borscht (beet soup). Manischewitz's 32-ounce jars (regular and low-cal) were going for $2.29 at Ralphs, $1.89 at Vons and $2.19 at Hughes. Hughes also had Mrs. Adler's for $1.59 and Rokeach for $1.89.

And finally, we had to throw in a price comparison on chicken fat, used as a spread and for cooking. And you thought that gefilte fish raised a few eyebrows?

Both Ralphs and Hughes were selling 7 1/2-ounce jars of Good Old Days brand rendered chicken fat: $3.79 at Ralphs, $3.89 at Hughes. Hughes also had Carmel Kosher brand "Imitation Chicken Flavored Fat" at 10 ounces for $2.99. The label touts the product as having no salt or cholesterol. (And only 110 calories and 12 grams of fat per tablespoon.)

Next week, we'll take a look at Easter products.

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