Shopping for food in Abu Dhabi is not much different than in the US since they import so many US products as well as all the good stuff from Europe. The grocery stores are like Super Walmarts or Kmarts (called Lulu's Hypermarket & Carrefour [a french chain store found throughout Europe]. They also have smaller chain stores that resemble the small town grocery stores we used to have ---not even the size of the Winn Dixie or Publix. They are more the size of the grocery store I used to go to when growing up in Adel, Georgia called Jarmon's or Carson Taylor's. Although they are not locally owned and operated and are chain stores, they still have that same feel because they are smaller and have cozier vegetable sections, etc. These little stores are called Abela's and Spinney's. These stores have a small deli, bakery, and bread department that have a charming variety of cheeses, olives, deli style meats, a large variety of fresh breads, and "made ready" foods for take out. Most of the fruits, dairy, and meats are labled as to where they are grown or processed. I like this very much. It's much like shopping for vidalia onions or Georgia peaches or Florida oranges.
Most of the fruits and vegetables I buy are grown in the neighboring regions. I have purchased Gala apples from Lebanon and some from Chile. I bought potatoes grown in Lebanon. Lots of the tropical fruits come from Sri Lanka or India such as mangoes and kiwi. I purchased a mango the other day grown in Kenya. I purchased some fabulous strawberries yesterday but I am not sure where they came from. Broccoli and lettuce are usually from Holland. (you have to be careful of the leafy vegetables in this region as they use "natural" fertilizers and many of these products are not cleaned very well before use----which can result in terrible gastric issues and strange organisms growing in your intestines!) I purchased some from peaches from Turkey (much like our yellow cling peaches only not quite as tasty) and made peach cobbler the other day.
One of the most interesting things I have noticed is the difference in the size of chicken and eggs. Our poultry products are sooooo laced with growth hormones that the size of our chickens and eggs are really abnormal. Here a whole chicken looks kind of like the size of the small game hens we buy for special occasions in the US. That is really what chickens look like. We are so used to buying these stoked up poultry products that we forget how a regular chicken really look.s The stores also sell a lot of organically grown products.
The size of sandwich bread slices are considerably smaller. Bread only lasts a couple of days. Sometimes it is unbelievably hard just sitting on the shelf. The best time to buy it is when they are putting it out on the shelf. They have all kinds of breads---sandwich, which are sliced loaves; pita bread or pocket bread; whole grains; something called milk bread; french baquettes; butter sticks which look a lot like hot dog buns only not sliced open; crossaints; and many more types.
Also, the dairy products and bread lack the preservatives we are so accustomed to in the US. So milk lasts only four days. I can get Skim milk here but I have to often search through the shelf to find it. The containers are written in Arabic on one side and English on the other! Goes to show you how multi-cultural this area has become. In much the same way as when we lived in Italy, shopping has to be done at least every two or three days. Buying large quantities of fresh items just doesn't pay. You can't expect it to last all week. I think the price is very decent for milk at $2.72 for 2 liters which is a little over 1/2 gallon. In Hawaii, prices for milk were around $6.00 a gallon on the economy.
I have also noticed that the oils---olive oil and vegetables oils---seem much greasier than in the US. All my foods turn out heavy with oil and have an oiler taste than what I am accustomed to. Of course, this is what I grew up with but have weaned myself from over the years in an effort to eat healthier.
Lots of the USDA products also carry a much higher price tag than the regional products. Cheeses can be very expensive if purchased prepackaged (such as Kraft) and shredded. So I go to the deli section and select my cheese. I have them shred or slice what I need. The same goes for deli meats.
One thing you don't want to do is purchase local beef. Apparently their slaughter houses are not the best and don't have the same inspection standards. Everyone warned me first thing to stay away from locally processed meats. All the grocery stores offer beef and veal from Brazil, New Zealand, and Australia. The cuts are the same as US but the price is actually a little better. One thing you cannot find is "ground beef." You must buy the beef cubes and tell them to mince it. They do not understand grind---you have to say minced. I bought 1 kilos (which is about 2lbs) of minced beef for a little over $5.00. That works out to about $2.50 a pound. Not bad!
Of course, grocery stores do not sell pork here because they do not eat it. Pork is considered unclean. However, Spinney's has a pork room in the back of the store where it is not so noticeable. One can buy pork to your heart's desire. It is expensive but a decent pork counter. And VERY BUSY! I guess the stores had to do something to cater to all the expatriates that shop in the stores.
There is a huge disparity on prices here. You can definitely say that American products are a little more but it is hard to identify why such products are so expensive. For example, Post's Honey Bunch of Oats cereal costs around $8.00 for a standard size box of 18 oz. The leading competitor by Nestle called Fitness, which is a whole grain cereal much the same as the Post brand, costs around $4.00 for a box near 13 oz. So sometimes you have to decide if you like a product enough to pay the more expensive prices. I typically will pay the higher price for Bounty Paper Towel or a small jar of Vlasic baby dills or Cirio tomatoes just because they are my favorite, tried-and-true brands. I am willing to step out on a limb though and try some of the other products in order to save some pennies and to experience something new. The other day I paid $8.00 for a small one-person sized Tony's frozen pizza. Some days you just don't care how much it costs, you want something familiar.
Another thing that has been surprising is the low cost of Coca Cola and water. In Europe, a glass of coke was outrageous and a bottled water also. Yesterday I bought a six pack of canned Coke Light (Diet Coke) for 6.00 dirhams which about $1.50. I bought SIX cans for the same price as we would pay for ONE coke. Water is just as crazy. I bought a SIX pack of small 12 oz bottles of water for 1.25 dirhams which is less than 50cents. We purchased a bottled water stand and have bottled water delivered to our house. I pay 7.00 dirhams a bottle which is about $1.50. When I say bottle, I mean the big jugs that hold at least 3 gallons of water. It might even be 5 gallons. I am not sure. I'm not too good with measurements and the bottles are not marked. You are encouraged not to drink the water straight from the spigot here as they use desalinated water. Even though the salt is extracted from the water, there is a small salt content, which is not good for your health. It can cause gall stones and kidney stones, I hear. It also makes your hair feel like straw!
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