November 11, 2009


Going to the grocery store here is a treat. There are several little groceries on almost every street -- probably four small stores within a few steps of our hotel -- and I haven't spent much time in them. I would imagine they're like a corner grocery in any big city.

But the big groceries, the ones in the shopping malls, are pretty amazing. They are what the Europeans call Hypermarkets, with groceries and dry goods and clothes and electronics. And the grocery sections have a vast selection. The yogurt aisle will rival any I saw in France. (And in France, a yogurt aisle is like a U.S. water aisle)

The cost of living here is high only because the cost of housing is high. Food is not a major expense, unless you opt for one the many fancy restaurants in the hotels. But that is the case in almost any city.

I do our weekly shopping on Wednesday, usually. It's the day off I share with Paul. I like it when he goes with me, because it's easier to handle a week's worth of groceries with two people and no car of our own. But he shops like a guy: He goes in, gets what's on my list, and gets out. I like to look at all the amazing things. That's how I find all the new treats I bring him, like teriyaki flavored rice crackers. So while I appreciate his help, I think I'll probably go on my own next time.

Because Abu Dhabi is an expatriate city, there are goods from all over. In the Lulu Hypermarket, located in the Al Wahda Mall, the array of vegetables, for example, is incredible. You can get four kinds of eggplant and three kinds of pomegranates and a host of things I couldn't identify if my life depended on it. I like that each item has, under the price, the country of origin. I don't know what makes Tunisian pomegranates half the price of Indian ones, though. I can figure out why the perfect tomatoes from Holland are so much more expensive than the imperfect ones from Yemen. But I don't know that they taste better. And for the life of me, I don't know why lettuce is so astonishingly expensive.

Often, in foreign shops where you can get products from home, you pay for the privilege. This isn't usually the case here. A can of soda is 27 cents. You can get cereal and cake mix and Nestle's Quik and Peter Pan peanut butter at about the same price it costs in the U.S. (or less, in the case of cereal). French-branded yogurt is more expensive than local (which is 27 cents for about six ounces). And local cheese is cheaper than imported cheese. But it's still cheaper than at home. I paid about $11 a kilo ($5 a pound) for sliced Dutch cheese. But Feta cheese from Saudi Arabia is 11 dirhams (about $3) a kilo.

Prepared food is astonishingly cheap. I can get a small container of hummous or labneh or cut-up fruit or olives for about $1. A six-pack of fresh pita bread is 27 cents. So there is definitely an incentive to bring my lunch to work instead of ordering out.

What I'm not used to is doing the shopping for a full week, and not cooking. We're still in the hotel, and while there is a full kitchen, there is no stocked pantry. So cooking is often more trouble than it's worth. (And I find I'm missing key things, like a frying pan or a carrot peeler.)

So it's too bad I don't have the outdoor markets I had in Paris, but I have something different here. Next, I hope to find the equivalent of a souk with spices and teas. Abu Dhabi is so good about bringing the world here, I just wish I could find more of the UAE in Abu Dhabi.

No comments: