Saturday, 6 September 2008

Oasis - Grocery Shopping in Cairo

Grocery Shopping in Cairo
Karishma Pais (Kim)

If you are moving to Cairo as an Expat, then before you think of buying papyrus paintings or Egyptian Carpets, the first thing you need to know is where to buy daily groceries.

Here are some of the best locations to source your groceries. If you are fluent in Arabic then you may find that the local markets are more flavorful and interesting.

Personally, I love the local markets for fruits and vegetables, as the produce is much fresher than in stores and they can be washed clean. For meat and meat products, I prefer the bigger supermarkets, as the meat is cut and kept in hygienic conditions.

Metro Markets - a small supermarket - are dotted around the city. They have all the basics that you need for daily use. Some fresh fruits & vegetables. A small selection of raw meats, marinated meats, cold meats, cheeses & pickles. I have found them more expensive than the other local groceries or the bigger ones. They are convenient because they are normally a short distance away and most items are labeled in English, as are the prices.

In some neighborhoods, without a Metro Market, you may find Kheer Zaman supermarkets, run by the same people. They do not carry as many imported products as Metro does.

The El Hawary Supermarkets are similar to Metro, but with lower rates. The locals shop here. A word of warning: Most prices are written in Arabic, if they are written at all. The store personnel cannot speak much English & the stores are quite crowded. The aisles are small & have a lot of people jostling for space, for themselves and their trolleys. Once you know which brands you like & can speak a few words in Arabic then you can try shopping here.

For your major shopping, try Carrefour. It’s a Hyper Market where you can get everything you want -that’s available in Egypt- in quite a few varieties. You do get good discounts & they always have some offer on. Most of the service staff can speak basic English or can refer you to someone who does speak English. The aisles are wide, the air conditioning works, lots of choice, good rates. Drawback : It’s a long drive from most residential areas. There's one on the Cairo-Alex desert road at Dandy Mall & another at Maadi City Center (on the Ring Road) They are both located in pretty decent malls, so you can plan a day around the experience. The Dandy Mall Carrefour is cleaner and less chaotic than the one in Maadi.

Spinneys at City Stars mall in Nasr City, is similar to Carrefour. The Electronics and clothes sections here are much larger than the other Hypermarkets. It’s convenient to pick up groceries from here after spending a day at the City Stars Mall or watching a movie.

If you are more confident of yourself & know for sure which brands you want to purchase, then HyperOne in 6th of October City, is the best option among the hypermarkets. Their prices are much lower & they have a larger range. Most locals shop here. It’s completely worth the drive for monthly shopping. HyperOne is run by the same people who own the El Hawary chain of supermarkets.

Between Hyper1 & Carrefour, I would recommend Carrefour for cold meats (tastier) & unpacked spices in barrels (labeled in English and cleaner). For everything else, Hyper1 is a better bet.

Alfa Markets are spread out in some parts of the City. They carry a lot of products imported from the UK including English rose patterned ceramic cutlery. But, they are expensive. The Zamalek branch, is the best of the Alfa Markets that I have seen.

There are smaller stand alone stores like Miriams supermarket and Kimo supermarket in Maadi, that carry a lot of imported products and even fresh home baked cakes and cookies by Expat women.

The local markets are always good for fruits & vegetables. They are fresher than the produce sold in supermarkets. These are recommended, if you can speak Arabic and you can judge fresh produce by looking at it or smelling it.

You can buy lovely spices at the Khan El Khalili for much lower rate than at the supermarkets. But be ready to bargain. Most of these guys can speak enough English because of the sheer number of tourists that visit the market.

Your neighborhood grocer will have a lot of the stuff that you may suddenly run out of, but you may be overcharged. On comparison, over time, I know the grocer next to my house overcharges me, but the shop around the corner gives me a fair deal and delivers home even if it is just a loaf of bread.

If you are new to Cairo, then you may find that it’s easier to walk up to the closest Metro Market where prices are fixed & marked. At least there you know that you are paying the same as the other customers, even if t is a little more.

Most grocery stores will deliver home. The Hypermarkets deliver home for a fee or a certain minimum purchase. If you carry them home yourself, your bowab or his wife will carry your shopping bags to your apartment for a small tip (50p to 2LE depending on how much stuff they have to carry and if they use the stairs or an elevator)

Karishma Pais (Kim) is an expat trailing wife in Cairo. She has a Masters Degree in Human Resources and Behaviour. She consults on HR projects, delivers intercultural training at the CSA, counsels new and experienced expats, writes for several magazines – online and offline, she runs and among other activities. Her Social Commentary and blog about life in Egypt can be read at

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