Before I begin, I feel it is important to note that I dislike grocery shopping. I didn’t like it in the States, and I don’t like it here. For me grocery shopping has always been an inconvenience – something to be avoided rather than enjoyed. Oh how I miss stocking up at Costco and supplementing with Safeway and therefore avoiding Winco for weeks at a time. Not here. Here I have to go major grocery shopping once a week and find my self doing the supplemental shopping several more times throughout the week. Yesterday was my weekly major shopping day. We usually go to one of the two Carrefours, which are located within the malls. But yesterday, Kassandra and I decided to venture out and try a new store. We went to Lulu Hypermarket. Thank you Christine for giving me directions that on the phone sounded crazy, but in reality got me there just fine (go almost to Al-Ain mall, go to the street where you can only turn left of right, turn left, go around the roundabout that only has two exits, and it should be right there…. you know near the Oman border checkpoint).
Lulu is rumored to have more American-style food compared to Carrefour’s French preferences. This Lulu was particularly nice because it was practically empty. I didn’t need to push my way through crowds of people, and it didn’t require a Dirham to use a shopping cart, which is always nice when you can’t remember to have one on you. Overall, the grocery stores here are comparable to the ones in the U.S. in terms of prices (Winco prices, not Safeway prices), layout, and service. However, there are a few major (minor?) differences. Obviously the food selection is different. It takes me forever to go grocery shopping because I have to read all of the labels. This has highlighted my limited cooking ability and my desire to be able to grab the same staples over and over.
The stores have aisles and aisles of rice, oils, chicken, olives, individual spices, and Indian food, and processed cheese (this picture is of just one of the two aisles). Unfortunately not as much space is dedicated to peanut butter, tortilla chips, salsa, cereal, seasoning packets, or real cheddar cheese. A good friend of mine here has kindly tried to point out that I need to stop searching for my old staples and find new ones. He is probably right, but he doesn’t have a picky 13 year old to cook for either. If I was here alone, I feel like I would venture a bit more out of comfort zone, but as it is we eat a lot of chicken. I have learned to prepare chicken in many different ways. None of which are all that exciting. I need to broaden my cooking expertise for sure. Maybe that will be my New Year’s resolution this year.
Another difference, although this one has a smaller impact on my life, is the produce department. Here you MUST put all of your fruit and vegetables into individual bags. Then you have each bag of produce weighted, sealed, and priced.. I learned this the first time I went shopping and tried to take my unbagged/unweighed produce with me up to the check out lane. I can see the merit in doing things this way. The people in the produce department are more familiar with the product, so they are amazingly fast at the process. The downside is the huge amount of plastic bags being used. For example, yesterday I only bought limes, apples, peaches, bananas, broccoli, peppers, garlic, and tomatoes, but this resulted in using 8 plastic bags. Also the line to get your produce weighed can be fairly competitive. I have just come to accept that if an Emirati woman (with her 30 bags) is near me, she will put her bags down on top of mine in order to be weighed first. That is okay. I am just an expat.
At the checkout lane, they are no more conservative about using plastic bags. Maybe I am harping on the plastic bags issue too much. But I come from a place that banned plastic bags in the grocery stores, so I feel guilty using them here. It makes me want to start bringing my own reusable bags. Maybe that will be my New Year’s resolution. In the mean time, I used an additional 18 plastic bags at checkout. This isn’t because I bought an enormous quantity of food. It is because they have no issue with putting just a couple of items in each bag. And this is grocery shopping Al-Ain style.