Shopping (from about Feb 2011)
I’ve just been food shopping and realise I must jot down some observations before it all becomes too commonplace. I love foreign supermarkets wherever I go but City Mart is certainly an eye-opener. And it is the one supermarket chain geared towards expats.
Fruit is like the opposite to home, where ‘exotic’ fruit like pineapple and mango are at a premium. Here you can pay almost a dollar an apple whereas mangoes and dragon fruit, tamarind and pomelo (like a giant grapefruit) cost pennies. Veg is plentiful but not recognisable, though carrots and green beans do make a regular appearance. There is only one kind of potato.
There is fresh meat, lots of chicken, some beef tenderloin (fillet) and mince plus pork loin. For some reason you can buy huge amounts of parsons noses and chicken bones, and carcases are also common. You can get olive oil though it is fantastically expensive, unless you find the Malaysian make. The fancier shops do have an Italian section with olive oil, tinned tomatoes and tomato puree and even De Cecco pasta.
Tinned stuff is common, lots of fruit in ‘heavy syrup’ and vegetables such as peas and corn but almost always with added salt and sugar. We do get Heinz vegetarian baked beans though and Campbells condensed soups of course (the wild mushroom makes a great sauce when you’re in a hurry). Then there is tinned ham, including lots of spam and also tinned cheese, butter and, er lettuce. No, I haven’t tried them.
Cereals tend to be sweet and chocolatey, which includes the muesli though we can get Quaker Oats. Milk products are surprisingly plentiful though the sell by dates on the milk is never more than the day after tomorrow so we use a combination of fresh and UHT, the variety of which is quite impressive. Different flavours, sizes, with straws, without, yoghurt drinks with probiotics, low fat, skimmed, high calcium etc. Who knew? And UHT tastes fine to me and Alfie. The fresh stuff is not always pasteurised though some of it is labelled as ‘boiled’ milk. Yoghurt is invariable sweetened as is almost everything you find made in Asia, including crisps and crackers. Cheese is another matter entirely as the rather plastic ‘cheddar’ has all but disappeared from the shelves to be replaced with an even more plastic ‘mozzarella’ (which is nothing of the sort). Cream cheese comes and goes so you have to buy in bulk when you see it and there are sometimes selections of Emborg cheeses which always look and taste like pretend versions of the real thing. They do a rather odd thing here where they sell a huge 2kg block of cheddar for about $100 but haven’t seemed to think of cutting it down into smaller portions for us mere mortals. Perhaps I should take the plunge and freeze some. The one thing we can ALWAYS get is La Vache Q’uil Rit of course – the red Laughing Cow really is the face of globalisation.
They do love their crackers mind! There is a whole aisle devoted to crackers, of the Ritz type with various flavourings including seaweed, cheese, herb and, er chocolate. As in savoury crackers with chocolate flavouring. Crisps are also a favourite and the local ones can be quite good, if you find any without added sugar (Ingredients: potato, oil, salt, sugar) which can make for an odd aftertaste. Otherwise Pringles are available. When our neighbours got back from Bhutan they brought Lemon and Sesame Pringles and Fruit and Nut flavour. Yuck! Nuts are also plentiful if you like cashews and peanuts. Hazlenuts, brazils and walnuts are rarely, if ever, seen but pecans and macadamias do make an appearance.
The dreaded durian fruit it sold in our local supermarket; it stinks and makes you want to retch. Lots of places ban them so I’m not sure why they feel it necessary to sell them here. Rather hilariously they have opened a sushi bar next to the fruit section but I can’t for the life of me see why anyone would want to eat next to that smell. Bleurgh.
As in all shops here there are more staff than customers and they say that nothing kills service like too much service. It’s not too bad in City Mart, the staff are pretty used to our odd foreign ways and the upside is that if I take Alfie (rarely these days!) and he wants to run around, I can guarantee he will be surrounded by 8 of the cosmetic aisle girls within nano-seconds. They’ll coo and chat and try to cuddle him while he runs away to much giggling and exclaiming, leaving me to finish the shopping. Lovely.