Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The shopping/cooking game

I pulled off a major shopping coup yesterday: I tracked down, located, and secured a slow cooker for purchase. I can't believe I found one. I walked down the appliance aisle of the store and it went something like "rice cooker rice cooker rice cooker deep fryer deep fryer deep fryer blender toaster steamer SLOW COOKER." Jackpot. Hopefully this will revolutionize my food preparation in the Middle East, which has never been stellar. In part because I've never had a crock pot over here, so.

I don't know what it is that makes it so difficult for me to put dinner on the table when we're living in a foreign country. Oh wait, yes I do: grocery stores (if they exist) are unfamiliar, products I'm used to aren't available, prices are in foreign currency so it takes longer to figure out if something is too expensive or not, no car to transport groceries home easily, and multiple trips to different markets are often required. Over time, some of these issues are resolved - I get used to the currency soon enough, and learn what ingredients need substitution. Still, there's hardly anything more frustrating than a recipe that calls for something as simple as celery or cheddar cheese when THERE IS NO SUCH THING HERE.

At least that was the case in Syria and, to a lesser extent, Russia. But in Jordan and Egypt, as well as here in the UAE, the hypermarket is king.

What is a hypermarket, you ask? Well, it's kind of like Fred Meyer, the dollar store, and Target all rolled into one. Think a few aisles of beauty care and toiletries + a huge bin of discounted house slippers + books/magazines/random pieces of furniture, all for sale in one store. Until we came here I only ever knew about Carrefour, the French giant hypermarket chain. But yesterday, we shopped somewhere called Hyper Panda.

The store name still makes me giggle, at least when I remember to call it Hyper Panda. Most of the time it comes out as Happy Panda because where I grew up there is a Chinese restaurant called that. I think the name makes me subconsciously shop faster, just because of the "hyper" part. Anyway, it was at Hyper Panda that I found the elusive slow cooker.

And now begins the food ingredient substitution experiments. Coming soon: using Knorr's French Onion Soup powder in place of Lipton Onion Soup mix. And powdered vanilla flavoring instead of liquid vanilla flavoring. And chunky granuled white sugar instead of that nice fine stuff you can get in the States. And whatever it is that I will figure out to use in place of powdered sugar. Like I said, coming soon.

PS - speaking of shopping difficulties, the other day we accidentally bought UHT milk made from milk powder. It tasted like rotten chalk, it was so disguting. Regular UHT milk tasted glorious by comparison.


Nancy said...

Just clicked out of Google Reader to check out your redesign. Very nice. :)

Also, sometimes I dissolved the sugar in water before I use it. That way I don't end up with chunkies--though some like it chunky. I actually like the chunky sugar for ginger snaps.

And the whole hypermart thing always made me smile, too. Although we only ever managed to find celery once when we lived in Egypt.

karina said...

One time we actually used a mortar and pestle to grind up the chunky sugar to attempt to make powdered sugar. Didn't work so well. Then I went to the store and found powdered sugar sitting right there. I felt silly.

I like the chunky sugar mixed with molasses substitute for brown sugar. I still make that here when I'm out of brown sugar. Tasty!

We tend to make a LOT of rice and red lentils when living in the Middle East. Just slap some plain yogurt on top and some chopped tomatoes for those who like 'em and you're set (after you salt the thing to death).

Liz Johnson said...

Celery is overrated anyways. Pssh.

"Hyper Panda" makes me think that there are pandas chasing people down the aisles to encourage more efficient shopping. The image cracks me up.

Can you get peanut butter there? Molasses? Canned pumpkin? Those were the big ones that were always missing in Mexico.

Steve said...

Russia's big on Hyper markets these days, too (гипермаркет). I went shopping there all the time last summer in Moscow. I hope you find "real" sugar soon!

Abby said...

My husband and I are living in Saudi Arabia right now, and I must say that I am incredibly jealous that you've managed to find a slow cooker! I might have to browse our local Hyperpanda in hopes of finding one.


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