So, you want some food?

Making your way to Nepal and being fed daal-bhaat every day, couple times a day sounds exciting! And it is, for the first couple of days. Then you start realizing that’s all you’ll ever be fed, and your excitement kind of flattens. Don’t get me wrong, daal-bhaat is really tasty. And I love it. But not every day; not all the time. I am used to a very diverse menu. My mom made sure that she always kept lunches and dinners interesting and new, and I loved it.

Now that daal-bhaat is out of the question, or at least limited to once or twice a week, it’s time to go grocery shopping. I have a confession. You’ll think I’m weird – I like grocery shopping. Actually, scratch that. I LOVE grocery shopping. When Mr.B. and I lived in US, grocery shopping would be my favorite thing to do. I had this whole shopping plan that I followed religiously every week according to the pantry/fridge needs and our budget. Several times I brought Mr.B. with me. I thought it would be a fun outing for us. He did not get excited about it, which I can understand to a certain extent – it was a grocery store after all. After he had a number of tantrums in several aisles (namely, dairy and frozen foods), I stopped inviting him to share with me this activity so close to my heart. I realized I enjoyed it best in my own company.

Now, grocery shopping in US is easy. Aisles are clearly marked, products are arranged neatly and logically, prices are displayed, and store usually smells like fresh bread and strawberries (or something). Grocery shopping in Nepal is, ahem, a bit different. I started grocery shopping on my own after gaining my independence back in March 2014. Mr.B. gladly gave up his responsibility of taking me to the store when food supplies run low. I shop in two different stores: Bhat Bhateni, and Saleways. Bhat Bhateni caters more to the typical domestic shopper, while Saleways prefers internationals. I go to Saleways for meat and dairy products, but everything else I buy in BB as it’s a lot cheaper. What both of those stores got in common is the total confusion that lingers from the moment you walk in the shop. Aisles are tiny and filled with stuff. Shelves are totally full, but then the other stuff is just kind of arranged on the floor. Steering the cart is a challenge, believe me.

There seems to be no logical order of arranging things on shelves. Chips and snacks often share their shelf with shampoos, and rice is sometimes found right next to the toilet paper. My favorite part of grocery shopping in Nepal is the surprise factor! You haven’t heard about the surprise factor? Oh, let me tell you aaaaalllll about it then. Every time you walk in the store, you have no clue what to expect. Some times the shelves are moved around. Sometimes the products on the shelves are switched around. Sometimes you find yourself wandering around for hours trying to find things, convincing yourself you have not gone mad, as just last week Oreos were on a cookie shelf, and now you are finding them in the pickled vegetable section. It’s exciting walking in and not knowing how long the whole grocery shopping ordeal will take.

On occasion you come across a product that you particularly like. What you need to do then is buy all of it. Completely clean up the shelf and stock up like a true doomsday hoarder. Chances are, you will never again see this product in Nepali grocery stores. It’s curious really. It’s as if though they have this huge catalog of groceries and they made a point to order different products every time, just to try them all or something. You never know what you’ll be able to find in the store, and whether you’ll come home empty handed, or with a pathetic small bag of canned tuna and peanut butter.

Grocery shopping in Nepal is fun. Not only you never know what awaits you in the shop, but people act just like they do in traffic – pushing and shoving their way through trying to be the first one to the cash register. It’s a competitive little game, but then again, life in Nepal is a competitive game.



13 thoughts on “So, you want some food?

  1. Love this article! It made me laugh so much – I can completely relate! I have been to both of these and I much preferred bhat bhateni it was huge, it felt like I could spend all day in there just browsing the collections.
    I can completely relate to your enjoyment of grocery shopping. When I was in the uk I would enjoy finding the best days in the local supermarket. But in Nepal we do not do a big shop. Instead my MiL will bring bits back daily after work and we will eat whatever she found on her walk. It is quite nice and adds an element of surprise into which vegetable we will be eating for dinner :p
    Have you tried to do your shopping in any of the local small places or the vegetable markets that litter the streets? There was something quite enjoyable about squatting on the floor rifling through the pile of vegetables on the floor. Haha!

    • I usually don’t shop in the small shops, as my MiL and our house helper do that. I never bother with buying vegetables and fruit in supermarkets since I know they could get much better ones in the market (price and quality wise). I shop for “western” food in supermarkets – usually things that small street shops wouldn’t really stock.

  2. I completely sympathize with you. It was the same for me in some Indian stores in the US and in some stores in Mumbai. And though it is as chaotic as you say, I still find it fun to look around and explore new kinds of beans, seeds, vegetables etc. I particularly liked those huuuge bags of spices such as turmeric, chilly or cumin. On the other hand, a wall full of different masala packages made me a bit dizzy. And how about the packaging: in India, some of the e.g. beans are packaged in a simple see-through bags with the smallest label stating only its price. No other information was provided. Is it the same in Kathmandu?

    • Yes, things are the same here. Lots of spices and domestically produced goods have very simple packaging. I don’t mind it actually. At least you can see what you’re getting!

  3. Very recognisable indeed! A couple of months ago I was thrilled to see that the Bhat Bhateni near my house was actually selling Nutella. I should have stocked up of course, because the next time all I could find was some strange Turkish brand, trying its best to look like Nutella but which was in fact a far cry from the real thing. In the months that followed I never saw the real Nutella again. Another typical feature is how the cashiers let you type in your own name for the VAT bill while precariously balancing the computer keyboard on your shopped items. A helper then walks away with your bank card to some obscure location, after which you are presented with the printed bill and a pen that rarely writes… Recently I found out that the BBs in Boudha and Patan are much better organised and less cluttered. It allows for a more ‘western’ shopping experience (and shelves stocked with Nutella, let me add) but of course the surprise factor is missing!

    • Yes, I did notice that BB, which I would assume would be the closest one to you, does not have Nutella. It’s strange how it’s the same chain but products are so different in each of the stores.
      I am so familiar with the cashier walking away with the card. They usually come back with a receipt that has several rupees added to it because they couldn’t remember the amount so they just rounded it up. I never try to have them change it because I assume that would take another hour of my life, and 5 or 10 rupees are just not worth it.

  4. Haha! We got all our groceries from local kirana shops, or from neighborhood department stores – where a cart has no purpose. I didn’t know grocery shopping at Bhatbhateni or Saleways would be so funny!

  5. I have to admit BB at Patan was really organized and had wide walkways between shelves until you reach the top floor where they are selling clothes and shoes. Last time I was there, it was a mess with stocks everywhere. You will only find what you are looking for in every other size but the size you are looking for. Also when they have anything in sale, they will have only in XL , XXL and XXXL available 🙂 Have fun shopping…

    • Ha, now that you mention it, that one is fairly organized. Except for the past section.
      I rarely go upstairs to home goods, but when I do, it’s a day-long excursion 🙂

  6. Ehh… I loved this post, with so much humor and optimism as usual 🙂 I have a little different way of shopping here. We have a big store called Big Bazaar which sells particularly everything you need.. but I cannot reach myself, and every time it is a big event for us to go and shop there. Otherwise I find the way out in local small (incovenient and narrow) markets. You have to squeeze yourself between the counter cum table buried under the goods and shelves on another side, while other customers keep on coming and demanding their stuff, without queque of course… It can take a while until you complete your shopping even if it something small 🙂
    Take care! Hope the weather in Kathmandu is better, it is hitting +40 C here these days! Phew!

  7. What about the prices in these places, are they fixed, or do you need to bargain there as well? (I think the bargaining is the worst thing about shopping in Nepal. A confusing waste of time. I wonder if I could ever get used to it.)

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