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Food: Grocery Shopping

July 31, 2012

To read the first post in our Food Series, click here.

Grocery shopping here is so fun.  Okay, it’s probably just me.  I love grocery shopping in general, but here it is like a game.  I try really hard to make sure my children don’t come with me (does that sound terrible?  Tough.), because that sort of challenge would go from fun to stressful in an instant, but there’s usually a kid sitter available.

A normal shopping day for me, about every other week or so, it is a Wednesday.  Pepe comes around 9am to drive me around town in whatever vehicle we have available, usually a MAF-owned vehicle and we pay per kilometer.  I get the kids situated where they will spend the morning and away we go.

Of course, the days leading up to shopping have been spent sporadically preparing, making lists and the dividing it between which stores have the items and the best deals.  I’m still perfecting this and still finding treasures.  I think it’s a never-ending process because the stores continually change their stock.  Sometimes it’s on purpose, sometimes it’s because of customs, and sometimes their prices fluctuate so much that the product is out of our financial reach.  ($15 for a box of Special K anyone?)

Once Pepe and I take off, I tell him which stores I want to visit and he helps me plan where to go first.  I do have a few places where I already go regularly, so I’ll outline those…

My first stop tends to be Regal.  Regal is the most unlikely store.  It was the first store we were introduced to here and it is, ummmm, different.  The layout is like a dirty, dim-lit, dingy convenience store, and yet they have a wide variety and you can find some things very affordably there.  It is my source of diapers and formula, since it consistently has the best prices on both.  It is also the best place I’ve found for mozzarella, pasta, some canned stuff, and butter.

Oh the butter…the butter here is amazing.  You know the Kerrygold butter you can find with the special cheeses in groceries in the states?  It’s all like that.  It’s very European.  When you melt it, it’s not white.  It’s not creamy-colored.  It’s neon yellow.  It’s awesome.  My white sauces are far from white.  Oh. So. Tasty.

After Regal, I vary my routine.  When I need to stock up on American-style snacks (like for our trip to Kenya, or for Matthew’s lunches), I stop at a little place owned by a Pakistani guy named Elli.  He loves kids and speaks very good English.  The store, Lafayette, is right next to the MAF office downtown Kinshasa, right off the main boulevard, so sometimes when I need to get cash, it’s convenient to go there.  Oh, and did I mention it’s the only place to get semi-affordable ice cream?  We went nearly four months without knowing this!!!  Jeepers!

If I need to stock up on my American food preferences, I go to City Market.  If City Market doesn’t carry it, it’s not here.  City Market isn’t the best, and is one of the most expensive stores, but they have stuff that all Americans want.  Salsa?  Corn starch?  Powdered sugar?  Brown sugar?  Pre-packaged spices (taco, enchilada, meatloaf, etc.)?  If you want those, you get it there.  I don’t necessarily subscribe to those things as needs, per se, but sometimes…well, it’s helpful.  Ok, corn starch and brown sugar are essential.  But the main thing I go to City Market for is boxed mac and cheese.  It’s not Kraft, but it’s my comfort food.  And, thankfully, it’s oddly American-priced.  I won’t question it, though; I’m just grateful.

Sometimes, I go to the newest store in town, opening just after we arrived, called Shoprite.  Shoprite is a South African chain and is the closest thing to an American-style store.  Which both makes me happy and sad. Someday, I hope my language is good enough that I can shop in the local markets…and haggle down the mundele-pricing!  Anyway, Shoprite has great deals on certain things.  Their meat is one of the two places I would buy it and they carry one novelty: boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  You know, the American standard meat?  It was impossible to find here, but Shoprite has them.  They’re pricey, but not outrageous.  I tend to get basics there that I haven’t found reasonably priced at Regal.  Oh, and their patisserie is awesome.  Their croissants are the best and they freeze so well that I get a dozen or so and what doesn’t get eaten on the way home, gets frozen for another breakfast.  They also have some housewares and toiletries that are reasonably priced (yay for Johnson&Johnson baby soap!), even bottles and sippy cups are suddenly available for new moms (I brought my own, because before Shoprite, they weren’t)!  Shoprite, though, is already struggling.  Their arrival struck a chord with the other large store owners in town and they weren’t too happy about it.  We started to notice the stock at Shoprite dwindling, despite just opening.  At first, we left it to poor buyers who underestimated Shoprite’s instant popularity, but now we’ve heard a rumor that says another store owner is paying the dock money enough to keep the shipping containers right where they are at the port.  Corruption in action.

The last place I stop is the store right down the street.  It’s a bit far to walk for me, though it would be doable if I were so inclined, but it’s a new, clean store that has great prices on most basics and it’s really nice because it’s in the neighborhood.  Their meat is usually the best and the best priced.  Their bread is also tasty and the deli counter has the friendliest ladies ever.  And now they know my name and that I’m learning Lingala, so they’ve made it their job to help me every time I’m in there.  It’s really fun!  Monishop is probably my favorite.  Levi likes going there because they have kid-sized carts.

I’ve left out a lot of stores.  The selection of modern-day stores has grown exponentially in the last two years, so we’re told.  Just a few years ago not one of them existed and grocery shopping meant going into a dark, dank store, looking at the products all behind glass or wire, pointing, paying for them, and picking them up already bagged.

In my next Food Series post I will talk about the cost of food here and where it all comes from, along with some garden updates!  Hopefully it will be sooner than another six weeks.  Ha!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Deb permalink
    July 31, 2012 0829

    I love your attitude towards shopping and that you are making friends with the store owners. Keep up the great work!

  2. July 31, 2012 0829

    Haha, Shoprite. There is a Shoprite chain in the Northeast US. I use to use it all the time when we lived in NJ. http://www.shoprite.com . Your blogs really entertain me, Lisa. Can you get pizza over there? No Dominos? Walmart?

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