What familiar and delicious dishes am I capable of cooking, considering ingredient availability?
...and also considering ingredient cost? What can I get away with NOT buying?
What is insanely expensive but indispensable, so that each time I buy it I die a little bit inside but know that it's for the best? (Answer: parmesan cheese. Eight ounces of it costs $7.30 and guess what? I totally buy it and call myself lucky to even have the option. Go ahead, judge me.)
What can I make at home instead of buying at a premium at the store?
Basically, the dilemma can be summarized as: What will my family actually eat, and how can I provide that at the lowest possible cost? Which, really, is the same thing I asked myself every time I made a grocery list in the US. It's just that here, the game is a lot more challenging.
In the end, our grocery bill ends up being about 150% of what it was in Ithaca (and probably close to 200% what it was in Tucson). And that's even with my dirham-pinching at every chance I get.
But we eat well, and healthily, and I call that success.
One interesting thing I've noticed is that the amount I spend on groceries each week varies depending on which store I go to. I am able to keep myself well within our budget if I go to the Carrefour in Ajman. It's the kind of place that doesn't cater to foreigners (and I'm usually the only Westerner shopping there), so I'm not tempted to buy American delicacies because they don't stock them there. If I go to the Carrefour in Mirdif (an expat-heavy suburb of Dubai), I have to put on the figurative blinders so I don't notice the string cheese and pepper jack cheese and Breyer's ice cream and Ore-Ida frozen potatoes and Lender's bagels. I have to do the same thing at Spinney's, which is why I pick up just a basket when I go there and tell myself that when the basket is full, that's it (I swear I only go there in the first place because they're the only store that sells plain, unsugared breakfast cereals, decent sliced bread, and certain hard-to-find baking ingredients). Waitrose is almost completely off-limits to me. I was there the other day for the first time and saw so many familiar foods from the US that it made my heart ache.
If you are laughing at me right now for feeling intense emotional pain about not being able to justify spending a certain amount of money on food that is familiar to me from my dear, long-past childhood home that is located in a country on the other side of the world, BE QUIET. Next time you spend a year living outside of the country you grew up in, and have another year of absence stretching out in front of you, pay attention to how magically delicious stuff like root beer and Eggo waffles starts to seem.
On the other hand, I can get those nice Persian cucumbers for super cheap, so at least there's that.