I had heard and read that your experience and product selection from store to store would vary. I find most things I need at our local Carrefour market, although the brands may not be my preferred ones. Another shopping center very close to our villa has a grocery store called Spinney's, and I found that I really enjoyed this store more than Carrefour because it seemed to have a better selection of my preferred staples. But most people I've talked to agree that you find yourself going to a specific store for different items, and you may need a combination of stores to get everything you need.
One of my new friends Karen (the wife of Jeff's coworker) informed me about a store near her home called Park n Shop. She told me I would love that store because they carry more American products. I looked it up and the store description made me laugh: "Supermarket selling expat comfort food." When I finally visited the Park n Shop, I was definitely happy with the additional products I found. I can see myself making that store one of our new regulars, even though it's not as convenient to drive there.
Karen also described how the process of selecting produce or meat is very different here. Many products are imported from several other countries, so a part of your product selection is choosing where the item was produced or imported from. Beef from Australia, for example, will have a different price and flavor than beef from somewhere else. I found this so interesting because I've honestly never considered the country my food comes from. (I realize I should, but I just don't!). Look closely at the meat packages and produce ad below; you will see that each is labeled with the country of origin.
One of the things I first noticed at my local Carrefour that was different from back home (at least where I'm used to shopping) was the availability of spices. You will see a huge section with barrels and barrels of various spices, all ready to scoop in whatever amount you need. I'm thinking that home cooks would really appreciate this; too bad that I'm quite inexperienced and can't take advantage of this perk like others might. Maybe one day.
Because UAE is a Muslim country, pork products are not as easily accessible here. But certain stores carry them in a separate dedicated room marked for Non-Muslims. Muslims are not allowed to enter these rooms. The rooms are usually in the back in an inconspicuous area, either labeled Non-Muslim or Non-Halal. Inside these rooms are products that contain any pork ingredients of any type or amount. You can find bacon, ham, sausage, as well as things like pepperoni pizza. And we were quite surprised to find Jello, Pop-tarts, and Lucky Charms cereal in there. Turns out that gelatin or other pork ingredients are used to make those products. I was quite surprised!
One of the other things I noticed right away about grocery shopping in Dubai was that my former habit of shopping in bulk at Sam's or Costco would not work here. There aren't many items I've found that can be bought in large quantities, and everyone I've asked about bulk shopping agrees that they miss their warehouse stores from back home. At the time of my writing this post, we've been in Dubai for almost two weeks and we have visited the grocery store at least once every other day, if not every single day. Buying in smaller quantities means more trips to the store.
Here's another (random) observation so far about grocery shopping in Dubai. The grocery bags they give you for your items are very NICE! They are bigger in size, thicker, and much stronger than the wimpy (recyclable) grocery bags you get when you shop in the States. I've found myself saving and using these grocery bags here for so many useful tasks around the villa. I feel like it's a perk but it's probably to the detriment of the environment, oops.
One of my most commonly purchased grocery items is soda. It's no secret that Jeff loves his Diet Mountain Dew (his "coffee") which is unfortunately rarely available here, so he is now drinking the regular Dew. And I love my Coke Zero which initially I was also unable to find. On my first two visits to Dubai, I ended up drinking Coca-Cola Light. I was actually very surprised at the taste because back in the States I normally can't stand the taste of Diet Coke, but I've really enjoyed the taste of Coca-Cola Light here in UAE. Since moving here in early December, I am happy to say that now I find Coca-Cola Zero everywhere here, but the packaging is red instead of black.
Most grocery items sold here have both English and Arabic writing on them, but you may still have trouble preparing your recipes even with recognized brands from the US. Why? Because most grocery items here are sold in grams or liters instead of ounces or pounds. Even the cooking/preparation instructions are written for Metric measurements instead of the Imperial system used in the US, and the cooking temperatures are given in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. I have not mastered these conversions yet so I pull out my trusty iPhone conversion app in these situations, although I still find myself guessing half the time!
I've been compiling a list of my favorite grocery items that I haven't been able to locate here in Dubai. Do any of these surprise you?
- Various soup/dressing mixes (I cook with these a lot!) like Hidden Valley ranch, Lipton soups, Italian season dressing (although I've found the Italian spice mix, which can be used instead)
- Ice Breakers peppermint gum
- Glad Press'n Seal (can we all just admit that cling wrap is for the birds??)
- Bounty paper towels
- Pillsbury crescent rolls
- Cottonelle or Charmin toilet tissue
- Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
- "Heavy duty" pantry items -- Ziploc bags, aluminum foil, paper plates
- Silk or Blue Diamond unsweetened vanilla flavored almond milk
- Dryer sheets (they do not sell them here ??)
Overall, my impression of the grocery shopping experience in Dubai (after living here for 2 weeks) is very positive. There have been a few items I really miss but nothing that I absolutely can't live without.