5 Inescapable Truths about Grocery Shopping in Dubai

1.  You will try to cling to your old way of cooking and snacking.

Coming from North America (and the UK for that matter), many of the brands you are accustomed to will be available.  Instead of screwing up an entire meal because you tried a different tomato sauce, you’ll search high and low for that brand you know, theoretically, to “save time.”  If you lived in any other country, you’d probably have to learn to live without or change the way you cook, but since you’ve seen the brands you are familiar with and know they are here, somewhere:

2.  You will make multiple trips during the week.

This is not because you are getting delicious fresh ingredients like in Europe, or because it’s a pedestrian-oriented city where you can’t carry much, but because each store carries different items on your weekly list.  You might add a trip to the farmers market, and of course one to the liquor store.  Many times, you’ll even add in an extra stop for a “comfort” item from home, like Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. Can you live without them? Of course. But the convenience factor combined with nostalgia for home are really quite motivational, so you will hunt them down, even if it means going to a store you wouldn’t normally visit. Of course, you might make that special trip and the goldfish won’t be there. So then:

3.  You’ll make multiple stops for one item.

Grocery stores will carry a product pretty regularly, and then POOF!  It disappears for weeks at a time, only to reappear when you aren’t looking for it anymore.  Take it from me, under no circumstances should you shop for a dinner party on the day of the party, or even the day before.  Start early.  Seeing cake frosting every time you grocery shop does not mean it will be available at any of the four stores in your area on the day of your party. (Can you tell this happened to me?  It wasn’t just the frosting for my son’s birthday cake, but also several key ingredients for appetizers and dinner.  Disaster!) When you do find the cake frosting?

4.  You will stockpile your favorite finds.

I guarantee everyone’s pantries in Dubai look like it’s Y2K. The euphoria you feel when you finally find those black beans you use to make your favorite avocado salad is quickly  followed by a hoarder’s mentality. You may never see them again! Quick!  Put 10 cans in your basket!  (this of course leads to #3 for everyone else because I’ve just bought them all up.)   When you’re finished buying an obscene amount of your favorite old standbys:

5.  You’ll try different things.

Okay, you can’t be totally boring and stuck in your old ways.  All kinds of spices and other items are easily available here for Indian, Thai and Middle Eastern cooking.  And they’re cheap!   You’ll get inspired to jump on the internet and start experimenting with recipes you may not normally try.  And you’ll probably google the names of a few of the fruits and veggies you’ve never seen and try to figure out how to eat them.

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Yes, I really miss the days of going to HEB once a week, where I could get everything I needed in one stop, and do it blindfolded because it was in the same spot every time.  But despite my often high level of frustration with the very time-consuming task of grocery shopping, at times I stop and look around and realize how cool it can be. (And how much worse it could be.)  The multicultural aspect is really quite fun.  The other day, I bought some Halloween pumpkins that were right next to a Diwali display.

Then I bought some freshly made zaatar bread at the bakery.

And then I walked on over to the ice-cream aisle and picked up some Blue-Bell ice-cream. That’s right! Straight from little ol’ Brenham, Texas.   It may not be available in all 50 states in the U.S., but I can get it in Dubai.  Strangely enough, there does seem to be a pretty steady supply (at one store to which I make special trips for it).  For an added treat that will surely make any Texan smile, they even have the “Southern Blackberry Cobbler” and “Southern Hospitality” flavors available.

When I’m tearing my hair out over the lack of aborio rice in all of Dubai, I try to think back to my steady supply of Bluebell.

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About Lynda

Longhorns and Camels is a blog about exploring Dubai from the perspective of an expat from Texas. It features stories about living in Dubai including descriptions of local culture and popular activities in the region. It also includes photography of the UAE and other countries abroad. It has been recommended by several well-known guides for expatriates: InterNations, ExpatWoman and Expat Focus.
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15 Responses to 5 Inescapable Truths about Grocery Shopping in Dubai

  1. Judy says:

    Ha! You’ve been away too long and are falling into the expat trap of remembering “home” through rose-tinted glasses. 😉 I used to complain about the hunter-gatherer style of shopping, things being out of stock for weeks and having to “hoard.” Now I’m back in North America I find it’s the same thing here. The supermarket biz is so competitive they all keep their stock to a minimum and hence some items go out of stock for weeks on end. I’ve even had to devote an extra cupboard for stuff I can’t bear to be without.

  2. Moi? Rose-colored glasses?? No way… 🙂

  3. Nicole says:

    Please tell me which store carries Blue Bell!!!!

    • Hi! Choithram on Al Wasl Road – the one near the Co-op/Safa Park. You have to be careful though – usually the quality is fine (not the exact same tasting as at home, but def good enough), but sometimes it’s awful (surely it must get messed up in transit!) In fact I just bought one and I think I’m going to exchange it b/c it’s inedible. If you can see little bubbles through the window, don’t get it. The 1/2 gallons cost around 35 dhs. They also have ice cream sandwiches and other blue bell products. Enjoy! 🙂

    • I also saw pint sized Blue Bell at Safest Way (that’s right – it’s apparently safer than Safeway – ha ha) on Sheikh Zayed Road.

  4. Kellie says:

    have you tried waitrose they have their own brands of rice and Muscat generally had aborio rice and even bomba if you were lucky in the AL fairs (the Omani Spinneys which carry Waitrose too). And if you can’t get premade frosting get the icing/powdered sugar and the butter out and channel your inner grandma!
    And as your friend says you get it the other way round as well, I head out past the beltway to get zaatar now, mind you I did that before I went to the middle east too, no hope for me.

    • Hi Kellie! 🙂 Thanks for the tips. I just could NOT find aborio rice for some reason! I looked at multiple stores, at multiple locations, for literally months (you know how the hubby likes his paella!) but no dice. So I bought a bunch in Houston and weighed down my bags with it, only to find some as soon as I got back at a place I’ve looked many times before. Typical! Yes, yes, I know you’re right about the frosting. I know I’m lame (I even used a boxed cake mix too – ha ha) but before everyone arrived I just could not get my mind around having to do one more task, you know? Anyway – hope you guys had a great halloween! Send me some pics of the little one. I bet she was adorable! xxx

  5. Lasairiona says:

    What do you bring back with you when you come to Texas for a visit?

    • Hi there! Thanks for stopping by. Of course anything Texas specific like salsa (if you can deal with packing it – it’s a bit of a hassle. You’ll find Pace Picante Sauce here but that’s it. You can make your own obviously, but I just like all the fun salsa’s available in TX – makes me smile to open them when I’m in Dubai) and BBQ seasoning. Emerill’s cajun seasoning. Vanilla extract. Baking items (like sprinkles/icing for writing, etc. They have it here but it’s either really expensive or small selection) Bagels. (if I can keep them from getting smooshed.) Can’t really think of what else right now … it’s usually when I’m walking around HEB that I am reminded of things I really miss! You thinking about moving to Dubai?

      • Another thing they don’t have here is red wine vinegar. (I guess because of the alcohol content?) They only have red or white balsamic. (which is fine, but sometimes I need a non-balsamic one). I never try bringing it here though because I’m worried it would break and make a huge mess.

      • Lasairiona says:

        Thanks 🙂 Is there any generic stuff you take with you that you’ve found to be impossible to find? or something that’s way more expensive over there – shower gel, shampoo, toothpaste, girl supplies? Or is it much of a muchness and not worth bringing?

        Husbands company has brought up the possibility of Dubai a LOT lately, so i’ve finally caved and started to do some research into it and found your blog. We’ll be coming from Houston (if it ever happens!!)

      • Oh, cool! If it happens, I think you’ll find the transition from Houston to Dubai easier than you might think. It’s similar in many ways.

        I don’t think there’s anything impossible to find, but yes, everything here is way more expensive than in Houston, so I do buy extras of things you mentioned like toiletries, also gift wrap and greeting cards, anything holiday related, and of course clothes! It’s a huge shop fest when I go home which explains the zillions of duffle bags, if you saw that post. Good luck and feel free to email me with other questions.

      • Lasairiona says:

        Thanks – I’ll most definitely add those to my ‘if it happens’ list. I’m working my way back through all your blog posts, when I’m done I’m sure i’ll have lots of questions LOL! If we move, i’ll definitely bring you a bottle of red wine vinegar 😉

  6. Fariza Shafeeq says:

    hai I want to buy halal(without alcohol) vanilla extract for reasonable price. I heard somewhere in sheikh zayed road there is one. I want a one liter bottle. Do you know anywhere which is avsilable.

    • Lynda says:

      Hi there! I’m sorry – I never could find vanilla extract in Dubai. If you heard somewhere on Sheikh Zayed Road, maybe try Safestway Supermarket (by a Turkish restaurant) – they seemed to have hard-to-find items. Thanks for stopping by and good luck!

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