Saturday, January 16, 2010

What, no kumquats from Kolkata?

A trip to the grocery store here is like a visit to the United Nations. Here's what went into my shopping cart tonight at Spinneys:

- Avocados from Australia
- Peppers from Holland
- Potatoes from Saudi Arabia
- Onions and apples from the U.S.
- Oranges from South Africa
- Lemons from Egypt
- Lettuce from Iran
- Bananas from the Philipines
- Asparagus from Thailand
- Garlic from China
- Okra from India

And that's just the fruits and vegetables.

The rest of the store, too, is filled with food from around the world. The reason for this diversity is, the UAE imports 80 percent of its food. There's not a whole lot you can grow in the desert, I suppose, so just like the U.S. is an oil dependent country, this is a food dependent country.

When I was told before I came to Abu Dhabi that anything in the grocery stores at home would be available here, I wasn't sure whether to believe it. But sure enough, you can find everything from Grape-Nuts to granola bars, peanut butter to Pringles. (But alas, no Wheat Thins!)

The produce is remarkably fresh, by the way, considering it all comes from somewhere else, and it's very reasonably priced, too. Four good-sized tomatoes for 11 dirhams? That's three bucks – let's see you beat that in mid-winter at your neighborhood Publix.

There's even pork, in the stores that cater to westerners. If you crave bacon or ham or sausage, it's kept in a separate room at the back of the store, with a sign over the door saying:


Buying meat is about the only thing that's a challenge, and only because I'm math challenged. But quick, you tell me: is a steak that sells for 115.50 dirhams per kilogram a good cut of beef? I can hardly do the math one way, much less two. Sounds like a lot, right?

Now that I'm back at home, using my calculator, I can tell you: I bought that steak for $14 a pound ... I think. All I know is, it tasted great in my fajitas tonight.

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