Tuesday, December 10, 2013

DAY FORTY ONE - Grocery shopping and the cost of "eats"

True Confession: I don't cook dinner very often. In fact, as I write this, I realize I haven't cooked dinner once since I've been here. Sometimes we eat out at a very nice restaurant (there are many), sometimes we order take-out (yes we can get pizza here easily), sometimes we even venture downstairs to the NYUAD Dining Hall on the 2nd floor (hit or miss), and sometimes we pick up fast-food (shwarma is the local favorite). But we always eat breakfast at home, and I like to have healthy snacks on hand, so that means I have to go out and shop for groceries.

A short ten minute walk away is the Madinat Zayed Mall. This is an old mall by Abu Dhabi standards and is somewhat shabby. We appear to live on the edge of the garment district, and this mall is home to shop after shop of fabrics - colorful silks and more sequined, sparkly and beaded material than I thought existed. It is also home to the city's Gold Souk, and there are over 80 small shops selling what, to my eyes, look like the very same ornate necklaces and earrings. I wonder how they all stay in business. There is a small food court, some clothing stores, electronics stores, a home goods/furniture store, and two grocery stores: the Food Co-Op and LuLu's Hypermarket. LuLu's has become my "go-to" grocery store.

This is the view out my guest room window. The Madinat Zayet Mall is in the middle of the photo, extending from the center left right to the middle. It's the long structure with the blue-green domes on the top and parking lot out front.

I've zoomed in on LuLu's which you can see in the center. The name is in green to the left of the domes. 

My first few visits were mostly reconnaissance. What was the layout and what did they sell? I grabbed a shopping cart and was off. Already I felt very much at home. 

This part of town has been referred to as Little India, so I found lots of Indian food here as well as Pakistani and Arabic items. Mixed in throughout the store, though, were many brands familiar to me: Duncan Hines cake mixes and frostings, Kraft cheese slices, Activia yogurt, Crest toothpaste. There was a large display of Tang. Who drinks Tang anymore? And boy does this country have a sweet tooth judging by the shelf space allotted to candy. I spotted the Ethnic Food aisle and was amused to find Ken's Light Options Olive Oil & Vinegar salad dressing. I bought a bottle just because. 

The LuLu's produce section is quite large, and I was surprised to see fruits and veggies that were unfamiliar to me. And here I thought I was oh-so-sophisticated thanks to my beloved Wegmans in Central New York State and specialty markets like Aspen and Citarella in New Jersey and NYC. Very humbling, I must say. 

I was also surprised to find a prepared food section which included a salad bar and hot food bar. For some reason I thought this was an "American thing" and that in other countries people made all, or most, of their meals from scratch. Apparently not. I found a huge olive bar; lots of interesting salads including my new favorite, Fatoush; cheeses (many yogurt based); whole roast chickens and fried pieces (lots of poultry is eaten in this country); and an enormous selection of mostly fried food (LOTS of fried food!). 

I passed by the fried food with only a glance. Okay maybe two because I do love samosas. But it was the bakery section that really caught my attention. I walked by the familiar cakes, cookies and cupcakes - been there, done that. I found a section of the bakery devoted to baked goods of the region, wonderful little pastries and bites concocted of dates and nuts, phyllo dough, and sweetened with honey. Yum!!!!! I figured in the interest of learning about this culture, I needed to buy some. Actually I decided that over the course of the coming year I should try each and every one! Not all at once, of course. Maybe a nibble or two every night as a special treat. Compare and contrast. Evaluate. I need to be thorough.

This is Doug's new favorite. The label says Hareesa Nafi-Kia, and it's a moist little almond (I think) cake soaked in honey and topped with a mix of nuts. 

This is my favorite thus far. It's called Bourma, and it is crispy, shredded phyllo dough wrapped around a filling of dates and pistachios, all soaked in honey. The nuts have protein, the dates are high in fiber, and honey is a natural sweetener. I figure this is Health Food (heh heh heh).

Now that Winter is almost here the weather is gorgeous. Just perfect with temps in the lower 80's/upper 70's, and there is almost always a gentle breeze blowing. This afternoon I took myself to LuLu's just for the joy of getting outside and taking a walk. My mission: yogurt for breakfast, lunch food for me, fresh fruit for snacking, and whatever else struck my fancy.

When I first started shopping in Abu Dhabi I gravitated to the foods that I knew and brands I could identify. Now that I am feeling more comfortable in general, I am very intentionally trying new things.

Today's purchases: prepared Fatoush salad, fresh fruit, dates (this is the land of dates!), an Egyptian fava bean dish called Foul, and a cheese I've never heard of before called Hajdu (very good with a mild taste). Not shown is a large container of Fage yogurt, Doug's favorite, which was the most expensive item at 24 dirham. Total cost for all this was 66.55 dirhams (AED) which equals $18.12 in US dollars. Not bad, right? 

Friends back in the States have been asking me about the cost of living here in the U.A.E., and I have to say that, in general, it is less expensive than it is in the United States. At least when it comes to buying most groceries. 

The local fast food joints are amazingly cheap, and the local eateries are very affordable as well. But if you go out to a nice restaurant at one of the many hotels or resorts, you can easily pay NYC prices and more. Much more. Thus our strategy is to eat very modestly most evenings of the week and then to dine out and have a "splurge" meal. It all balances out quite nicely. 

So far, so good, friends. So far, so good. 


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