Grocery shopping here is pretty much like grocery shopping in the U.S., though self-service checkout hasn’t reached Zambia. We live in the southeast quadrant of Lusaka which is full of ex-pats (and close to where the American International School is). The best store (in my opinion) in this area is the Pick n Pay in Woodlands. It’s clean and well-stocked. They even have a nut and candy center.
(Note to ex-pats living here – sorry if the pecans are always out. Blame it on that recipe for Zingerman’s pecan-raisin bread. I’ll lend you some if you need them.)
The other two grocery stores in this ex-pat area are a Spar and the Melissa grocery store. The Spar grocery store is in the Crossroads shopping center where the champion barista for all of Zambia makes the best macchiatos (at the left corner as you walk into the courtyard for the Spar). There’s also the Melissa grocery store in Kabulonga. I find both of these stores kind of icky, especially in the produce areas. They seem dirty and I’ve found bugs in the Melissa grocery store.
In the Manda Hill shopping center there’s an incredibly well-stocked grocery store called Shoprite. It’s kind of like a mini-Walmart in that it has a section for hardware and lawn furniture and sports gear. The Spar grocery store in the Arcades shopping center is nice too and has a complete deli.
With the exception of the Melissa grocery store, these are all South African chains so while you can get several familiar American products (like Red Hot or French’s mustard), you get a lot more English products. Strangely enough, there are a lot of Italian products too. The tomato sauces and purees mostly seem to be from Italy and are much more flavorful than Hunts or other American brands. What’s strange is that while you can pretty much get everything you want here, each store carries different items so often you have to drive from one place to another.
There are two big differences here to watch out for. First, your loose produce is not weighed at check-out. It’s weighed in the produce section. So, after you’ve collected everything you want you go to the produce weighing station (like the one below in Pick n Pay) and they weigh and label it there. There’s nothing more embarrassing than holding up a whole line of people because you didn’t weigh your produce and they have to run off and get it weighed for you. Fortunately, this is the way they handled their produce in Italy too so I caught on quicker here than I did in Italy.
Second, the hamburger (called “mince” here) and other meat products often have an overwhelming bleach/cleaner smell that permeates anything you’re cooking — even if you cover it up with onions, garlic and tomato sauce! It’s really nauseating. I just found out Sunday from a farmer that that smell is from meat usually processed at the chain grocery stores and from their sanitation procedures. All I can tell you is that it makes for an awful meal. However, there are several places in town where you can buy meat that’s safe to eat and free from that awful processing smell. I’ve started buying Majoru brand at the commissary and it tastes good. Others have strongly recommended Fringilla, for good fresh meat (see this review on a blog; there’s apparently a shop in town too). Some grocery stores carry these brands in their frozen food section but you have to search for them. Some friends have recommended Zambeef but each time I’ve bought it it’s had that awful smell too.
Anyways, if you get a batch of meat that smells it’s probably due to the processing and it won’t go away when you cook it. (Wish I had known earlier that certain brands were free of that smell!)
One other thing I’ve found difficult to get here is limes. There are plenty of lemons (both the bumpy mis-shapen local lemons and the double-the-cost smooth [no doubt chemically-treated] imported lemons from South Africa). There’s apparently a big farmers market on Tuesdays out on Burma road that I’ve yet to see. A friend told me today they had bags of limes. I’m going next Tuesday so will take photos.