Friday, 21 March 2014

The joys of food shopping in Algeria Part 2

Fish my youngest son caught with the help of a friend

Fish is sold, more often than not, at the side of the road, and during the summer sardines are very popular and sold as soon as they have been caught, off a little cart that is wheeled from street to street, with the seller shouting ‘sardinas…..sardiiiiiiiiiiiines!’ at the top of his voice, with a trail of cats following in his wake.

Sometimes my husband would ask me, as he left the house, if there was anything I wanted, to which I invariably answered ‘Cadbury’s chocolate, cheddar cheese (hadn’t found it at the time)’ and lots of other foods I missed from England and Ireland.  I spent a lot time during my first few months wondering what to cook for the family.  Now, I did this a lot in England too but there it was what to choose to cook, here in Algeria in 2003 it simply was what to cook, not having some of the simple basic ingredients to which I had become accustomed.  Whenever someone traveled back to UK they were inundated with requests to bring back this or that vital food stuff without which we just could not manage, but as the years have gone by the shopping list has become smaller as I have learnt to adapt, do without and improvise, and also as more and more goods have become widely available here.

When we first arrived in 2003 my husband’s niece very proudly brought us to a supermarket that had…..wait for it…… trolleys and a check-out!  So westernised!  The fact that most of the goods were exactly the same just a larger quantity as in the corner shop was neither here nor there. There were a couple of shops where, in addition to selling Algerian goods you could also find some foreign produce such as Nestle and Kraft imports, biscuits, jelly, custard powder etc.  But these were so far away from where I lived that it really didn’t warrant the time stuck in traffic and effort to visit them on a regular basis.
Figs in our garden
But ‘the times they are a changing’ and little supermarkets, aptly named ‘superettes’ have sprung up all over the place where you can pick things off the shelves yourself and bring them to the cash desk. We have a few in our area and they often sell foreign produce you cannot find in an ordinary corner shop, such as mascarpone cheese, tinned coconut milk, gelatine leaves, even baked beans.  Now, please, don’t tell me that you can make your own baked beans.  If you do I will know with absolute certainty that you don’t hail from the British or Irish Isles, because home-made baked beans are still just glorified ‘loubia’.  You can also find time-savers such as pizza bases and packs of puff pastry as well as frozen vegetables.

Bigger supermarkets have now popped up  throughout Algiers, with even a couple of shopping centers where in addition to a large supermarket you can also find clothes boutiques, furniture stores, book stores, shops selling technological goods and toys all under one roof. In these supermarkets you can find foodstuffs you rarely find anywhere else including frozen broccoli and frozen and fresh mushrooms. I can still remember the day a few years ago when I saw bars of Cadbury’s Chocolate staring at me from a shelf in a supermarket in Ain Nadja and I thought to myself ‘Finally…. Algeria has joined the civilised world!’

The thing that has amused me no end is to receive Tesco and Spar plastic carrier bags for my shopping…. I have even seen Dunnes Stores (a well known Irish retail brand) bags here.
Guess where I did not go to do my shopping
‘Why do I feel as if everyone is staring at me when I go to the market?’ I remarked one day to my daughter, Sarah. ‘Because everyone IS staring at you…. they know you are a foreigner.’  She went on to explain that it probably had something to do with the style of jilbab I wore.  ‘Ok I will get an Algerian one.’  But that wouldn’t do either…..I wore a niqab (face veil) but didn’t wear gloves (usually they were both worn), so I said I would wear both, anything to ‘fit in.’  Finally in exasperation she said ‘they all know you’re a foreigner no matter what you wear…. because of that blooming shopping list you have in your hands!’  And it’s true… I never see Algerian women carry a shopping list.  I remember my husband’s niece moaning about the fact that her Mum often forgot something when she went out shopping but she refused point blank to bring a shopping list with her.  It just wasn’t the ‘done thing’!  Well… I’ve gone one better and not only do I carry one and take it out and look at it every now and again but….when my husband does the shopping for me he brings one too!  So There! 

Who am I kidding?  Even without a shopping list and with all the right apparel I still stick out like a sore thumb because of my gestures, my walk and….my sighing.  I sigh…a lot… when I’m tired, bored, fed up, doing something I hate and… whenever I enter a shop (which usually encompasses all four things for me).  Sarah has reliably informed me that my loud sighing on entering a shop has actually stopped people in their tracks and made them stare at me.  I’m too busy figuring out what I want, where I’ll find it, how much it costs etc to notice but anyone who has the misfortune to accompany me becomes painfully aware of it.  It’s not that Algerian women don’t sigh… they do, but they usually sigh with a few ‘AstaghfirAllah’ s along the way as they run out of breath, I just…sigh.  So now I have to train myself to say ‘AstagifirAllah’ while I release my breath, which has the advantage of asking Allah’s forgiveness which is always a good thing.  ‘But even if you say it they’ll still know you’re foreign’ said Sarah the killjoy – ‘you’re pronunciation will give you away.’  Who wants to fit in anyway!
Grapes in our garden


  1. Assalaamu alaikum

    Maa'Shaa'Allaah what a wonderful blog, so happy to see that you have taken up blogging and I'm looking forward to having a nit of time so I can read your archived posts in'shaa'Allah.

    The Tesco and Spar bags amused me no end when we were in Algeria last!

  2. Walaykum asalaam wa rahmatulah, So glad you like my blog mashaAllah! I see you've been blogging again after a hiatus....hope you keep it up inshallah!

  3. and what about the famous H.Samuel bags? they still have them? there were around when I was there .....a loooooooooong time ago...but mash'Allah you are making me relive it all...jzk

  4. No, Ines, I haven't seen any of them, but so glad it's bringing back good memories Alhamdulilah!