Most of Bahrain’s many malls include a supermarket, there are even a few hypermarkets. I can’t claim to have visted them all yet (although Kevin would say I’m working on it) but I thought I’d share my impressions so far. Geant (Casino) and Carrefour are two large French brands familiar to any Brit who has shopped for food across the Channel. Both have large stores in Manama, one on each side of the highway that runs across the north of the city. They are just like their counterparts back home in France with a mix of hardware, electrical, clothes and household goods together with a range of food items, veg, fruit, bakery, fish and meat, in fact the only thing missing is the extensive wine section! I love French cheese and it was a pleasant suprise to find it on the shelves here and one we quickly made use of. The addition of shelves of spices and rice together with many brands familiar from the UK including Dorset cereals, Tetley tea and Nestle’s Alta Rica Coffee make Geant one of my favourites.
The other hypermarket in this part of the city is Lulu. The first time we shopped there was on a weekday evening and it was heaving. Most of the customers appeared to be from the Indian sub-continent with Kevin & I the only Europeans wandering round. I love this store – the veg seem fresher, there seems to be a wider choice (I don’t think I have seen so many dinner services or type of processed, sliced cheese for sale in one place) and there is a huge range of more exotic food stuffs making it a bit of a curry or indo-chinese food-lover’s paradise. The only downside is the meat counter which has beef, lamb, mutton, goat and camel on offer but not many cuts of each. Mince or steak are about it unless you want it pre-marinated (a pet hate of mine) although one day I think we might try making a camel curry!
Locally in Juffair we have Megastore at the end of “American Alley”, a one way street full of fast food outlets. Megastore is cheap and cheerful and seems to mostly be catering for the local US Navy Base. And closer still there is Al Jazira, this relatively small store packs in an awful lot and as the fruit, veg and meat seem to be good quality it makes a great “corner shop” for us. We love the rye bread from the Korean bakery they sell here. It also is unique in that they have a pork butchery. Pork has to be kept totally separate in this Muslim country so has its own dedicated area in a corner of the shop separated by glass from the rest of the butchery area. Kevin was delighted to find there is even frozen pork bacon on offer, most cafes use beef bacon which he tells me is not the same (I am no fan of bacon of whatever source, it smells mouthwatering whilst cooking but mostly its like eating cardboard).
With the hot climate and tap water that has a distinctly chloriney tang, fruit juice is a great alternative. All the supermarkets have chiller cabinets full of lurid coloured liquids in plastic bottles. Guava, carrot, orange, kiwi, lemon, lime, pineapple, mango either singly or in some sort of “cocktail” are on offer. Mostly made from concentrate, water and sugar together with E numbers long since removed from Britian’s diet these have replaced our habitual glass of wine with supper and are probably about as unhealthy.
One culture shock for the average Brit used to draconian local authority bin regimes (Elmbridge provided a slightly reasonable two wheely-bins plus foodwaste system) is that there is little recycling here; cardboard, plastic, glass all go into the rubbish bin. Packaging is of a quality unheard of in recent years in Europe – lots of good quality plastic bottles, outer cardboard wrappings etc remind me of when I was a kid. All that juice comes is rigid plastic bottles that it seems a shame to throw away but I haven’t a clue what else they could be used for.
Each checkout usually has a man who carefully packs your bags for you so once the trolley hads been emptied onto the belt all you have to do is pay. However the checkout staff don’t really understand the concept of packing shopping into bags you bring with you. Of the supermarkets only Lulu seems to offer re-usable bags, although Geant’s extraordinarily thick plastic carrier bags would probably out last many a Waitrose bag-for-life! I suppose all this plastic is because oil is locally produced and therefore a cheap raw material.
Food miles don’t seem to be an issue here either but then again I supppose if you live on an island in the desert and want a wide and varied diet including brands from home it can’t be. So far we’ve had delicious grapes from India, although as in the UK much of the fruit seems to be from South Africa. The meat onsale is mainly from New Zealand, Australia and India with some local lamd and mutton, butter from France, Denmark and New Zealand and milk mostly from Saudi.
Veg is either local or imported with produce like green peppers coming from the glasshouses of Holland as it does in the UK. The local cucumbers are great – no more buying halves of the huge Dutch or English ones as they come in a handy 6 inch size! In addition to shelves of “Herbs and Leaves” there are colourful mounds of Asian veggies on offer. Some I recognise for example okra and white radish and others are completely alien; long green spikey things, yellowing “green beans”, and something Kevin assures me is durian which he won’t have in the house. I plan to try cooking with as many of them as I can over the coming months except perhaps the durian.