We have a very good supermarket, Rustan’s, a 2 minute walk from our apartment. There is also a local market about a 10 minute walk away. The prices in the market are probably about half of what they are in Rustan’s for fruit & veg.
The first thing that you see when you walk into Rustan’s are shelves full of Casino (the French supermarket) products. When I first visited the store, I thought that it was a spin-off of Casino. As you walk further up the aisle, you come upon a section dedicated to organic & healthy food. By this I mean 2 categories – not just healthy organic. These were the first 2 things we saw when we visited Rustan’s on our second day in Manila. Immediately we were thinking that I would need to find a job as soon as possible. The prices in these 2 sections are not aimed at a one-salary household.
As we wandered around the supermarket on that day, and on (many) subsequent visits, it became apparent that you can buy almost anything in this supermarket. Simon was delighted to find peanut butter on that first visit! Of course you can’t get sugar-free peanut butter, but there is a huge selection nonetheless.
But back to the product range. The organisation of the supermarket is crying out for some UX design (look it up). There are entire sections dedicated to Japanese, UK & French (but no dijon mustard?!) nationals and perhaps others that I haven’t picked up on yet. And generally the products you find in these aisles can also be found elsewhere in the store. It can be a very confusing experience – you’re never sure whether you’re seeing a full product range in that aisle, or whether you’ll find another product of the same category nestled somewhere else in an international section.
The Australian & USA products are peppered throughout the store – I haven’t noticed an aisle dedicated to them. Although, saying that, the baking aisle does have A LOT of American products. Yes, there is a baking aisle! And I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find chocolate chips here, so have shipped 2 massive bags I bought in the USA. I haven’t been able to find self-raising flour, it’s all ‘All Purpose Flour’. It’s also tricky to find wholewheat flour.
I’m sure you’re dying to know what’s in the UK aisle. It’s like a mini (very mini) Marks & Spencer. You can even buy Percy Pig sweets as well as M&S frozen meals! I avoid that aisle just in case something really unnecessary and overpriced falls into my basket. Perhaps when the shock of being here finally hits (if it does), I will go and load my trolley up with frozen Cumberland pie, Lancashire hotpot etc.
Still, it’s a fascinating experience to go round the different supermarkets here. I never knew it was possible to get so many varieties of tinned tuna. Or spaghetti sauce. Or rice.
There are some things which are difficult or extremely expensive to get. Hummus is available on some days, depending on when they’ve had a delivery. I haven’t seen Golden Syrup (it’s pancake day next week!). Plain (i.e. not salted, roasted or fried) seeds and nuts are stupidly expensive here – I found a 500g packet of almonds in a local deli for about £20. Luckily Rustan’s have started stocking them now, for about £7.
That’s the other thing about Rustan’s – their product range changes continually, so you’re never sure if you’ll be able to find something again on a subsequent visit.
Shopping in the local market is a different experience. On the day I went, I was the only foreigner there (in Rustan’s you pretty much only see foreigners). The fruit and veg is piled up, with different vendors grouped together selling mostly the same things. They don’t really seem to compete for your attention, they rely on the display of their produce to do that. Also in this market you can buy fish & meat, household items (I bought a local grass brush to clean the apartment), dry goods & tailoring services!
The fruit and veg is exotic, plentiful and fresh. There were more than a few things which I couldn’t identify. Perhaps I will just buy some and try them! The aubergines are long and thin, rather than long and fat as at home. The local limes, calamansi, are tiny round things with an orange flesh, rather than green. Everything is differently shaped and sized, none of the uniform-ness you expect in a UK supermarket. I rather like it. And I love being able to buy 3 mangoes for about £1 and having them for breakfast every day.