Warning, this post will be completely boring to those who couldn't give a rat's about supermarkets and grocery shopping...
When I first moved here, I was surprised at how many of the same products I used at home that I could get here. Vegemite, Bega cheese, breakfast cereals, even Tim Tams. All the same familiar stuff. Living in a place with a large expat community means that we probably get more Aussie products here than we would in living in the UK or US. The one thing we can't get that my family loves are Vita-Weats (c'mon Arnotts, you can export Tim Tams, what about Vita-Weats?) and I would say that's about it. Although, I always say I'd love someone to send me a good flat white over, that seems to be missing here.
Then it's the all the other stuff. Working out where the best produce is, the good meat, the nice dairy. As pretty much all produce has to be imported to the UAE you can buy carrots from Australia, apples from NZ, onions from India, potatoes from Lebanon, sweet potato from the US, tomatoes from Holland, etc. Then because it's all a little strange I had thoughts going through my mind of "Are onions from India or potatoes from Lebanon safe to eat?"
Bread is different here too, but it's certainly a lot cheaper than in Australia. I rarely pay more than $2 for a loaf of bread, often less. Bread is the one thing I can only buy in certain shops as it's hard to get really good western-style bread loaves here. Bread goes mouldy here very quickly, so it's a daily purchase. I've noticed that the bread doesn't have preservatives in it.
Chicken is one of the few local products you can buy here and it's very popular. Although chickens are a lot smaller here than they are in Australia. Average chicken is under 1kg. Australian beef and lamb is available to buy everywhere, and it's often cheaper and better quality than what I was buying at home. You can buy pork here, but only from certain licensed supermarkets and are kept in a clearly marked section away from the rest of the produce, usually behind a door marked "For non-muslims". Pork products come from the UK, France, Belgium and Kenya. You can also buy mutton from India or goat from Pakistan, I haven't been that adventurous yet.
The biggest change in our grocery habits has been having to visit more than one supermarket to do your weekly shop. We got to a more local, Arabic supermarket to buy produce as it's much better and much cheaper. Then we go to a more western-style supermarket that stocks brand name products and pork.
Milk and dairy are locally produced or produce in Saudi Arabia. Although we do buy Bega cheese and some soft French cheeses. Milk goes off quickly here too, so that is something that is purchased daily as well. Again, I think it's the lack of preservatives.
Cooking meals has meant a shift in the way I think. Using new products and ingredients, not being able to get things like really good sausages. So bangers and mash doesn't pop up too often, but instead we're using lots of zingy herbs (corriander, mint, fennel), limes and nuts (cashews and pistachios) which are expensive in Australia.
Skip is a good cook and comes up with new ways to use the big bunches of herbs we can get for a few cents, the golden Iranian sweet sultanas, the big bags of pistachios.
I'm not as imaginative, but I have cooked up this meal a few times lately, Baby Mac's Asian Mince Chicken, and it makes the most of the fabulous herbs and limes we can get here. Try this out, it's so easy and so tasty.
So, seven months in I find I'm comfortable negotiating the food aisles, which was a little daunting at first.
Do you have your favourite product that you just couldn't live without? Can you recommend any recipes to me?