Forget Sainsbury’s or Walmart. If you’re French, you’ll find a Monoprix but I’ll wager it’s not quite like the one back home.
It certainly doesn’t do online orders and home deliveries.
You can pick up all sorts from street hawkers. Fruit and veg, snacks and CDs – even pet puppies – they’re all available from your car window at the right junction, at the right hour.
Markets can be great if you have the time to wander, the energy to bargain and aren’t towing a tantrum-prone toddler. And downtown is where you’ll find the best prices.
Otherwise, it’s likely you’ll be heading to one of the many Lebanese-run supermarkets to pay through the nose for often poor-quality imported goods. Most things are just cheap enough to justify taking this easy option. Paying £1.20 for own-brand digestives or a dollar for a tin of basic beans offers just enough home comfort to be worth it.
It turned out that one factory in Greenford, west London, churned out half of our weekly shop, from hand wash to honey to hobnobs (strictly speaking called Oaties). Its value beans and crackers came to our rescue numerous times when trying to find something quick to feed the Flump.
However, you really have to grit your teeth when blowing a fiver ($8) on a box of branded bran flakes. There are cheaper alternatives. If you can stomach Tesco Value cornflakes, they’re readily available on the street. If you’re cooking anything half-way adventurous – involving, say, parmesan or halloumi – then ingredients are likely to cost you three or four times what you might pay at home.
To add to the complications, you’ll rarely get everything you want in the one supermarket. Or, if you do, you’ll likely find one or two of the items on your list at three times the price of a rival store. You might congratulate yourself on finding the cheapest baby wipes in town (a mere 150% of the price at home) only to discover soy milk at three times the going rate. Oh, and this place doesn’t stock jam.
So, depending on how hard-nosed you are, you might find yourself visiting three separate stores in any one shopping trip.
Fruit and veg is available from street stalls outside supermarkets, but is cheaper in places less-obviously frequented by the (relatively) wealthy. You can get plenty of saladstuffs, “Irish” (as opposed to sweet) potatoes, cabbage, carrots, onions, garlic, imported apples and home-grown mangos, bananas and pineapples. Smaller stalls tend to be cheaper but have less variety.
Some things just aren’t available so expect to adapt. Milk comes either powdered or as UHT. If you can’t handle splashing that funny-tasting stuff onto your overpriced muesli, you might as well enjoy the local bread for breakfast. Readily available in local shops for about 15p a roll, it’s light, fluffy and tasty – and chances are you can get eggs to go with it at the shop next door.
These local shops – many of them little more than concrete cubes with counters and a chair – often stock an unlikely selection of dry products: Biscuits and batteries, sweets and superglue, crackers and credit (for your mobile). They’re handy for the odd item but you’ll never stock your kitchen from them.
Image: Sun Mark Ltd