Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Grocery Shopping in Dubai . . . A Never-ending Scavenger Hunt

Oh Dubai! How I love the adventure of living with you! 

The thrill of navigating your roads, the adrenalin-pumping gauntlet of your bureaucratic mazes, the tongue-twisting test of translating your many English dialects  . . . and the adventure of foraging for groceries! 

Life is a never-ending adventure here!

When one relocates to a new locale, it doesn't have to be as exotic as Dubai just any ordinary city will do, it is always a challenge to locate the right outlets to purchase the food stuffs with which you love to cook. In my case, we are talking American food products.

Be you a lowly beginner, a seasoned chef or an intrepid food explorer we all face the same dilemma. Where do you find the ingredients for that most perfect dish that makes your family sing your praises?

Read on, you will be very surprised to learn what is the hardest product to find in Dubai!

A foreign country presents added challenges;  inconsistent food supply chains often break down leaving shelves bare of that one essential ingredient for your special recipe; perplexing foreign produce that must be tasted and cooked with the trial-and-error method; the daunting “moo-ing” jigsaw puzzle of unfamiliar cuts of meat from various countries around the globe; the “fresh” produce that is anything but fresh since it has come from half way around the world  . . . the whole process can be just exhausting.

Here in Dubai, I actually gave up adventurous cooking for awhile because I was so tired of my dishes coming out tasteless because the ingredients had languished somewhere on the journey and had lost their flavor.  But, in my never ending thirst for adventure, I uncovered what I think are excellent places to get really fresh ingredients and hard to find American products that I simply just can’t do without.

For those of you who live in Dubai, here is my current list of great places to buy groceries. It is not an all-inclusive list just my favorites!

Did I miss any special place you have discovered? Any special ingredient(s) you are still lusting after? Let me know by leaving a comment below. We will see what we can do to help.

Oh, and Susan Ahart reminds us, "When looking for American food products, don't forget to look in the "exotic' section in a grocery store. In Dubai, Americans can be considered exotic by some people!"

Really fresh fish and seafood .  .  . Markets & Platters.

I am talking about fish that is so fresh it is winking at you! Located in the bottom of the Pinnacle/Tiger building in Dubai Marina, here you find divinely fresh fish and other seafood offerings (their sushi is truly still “flipping”).  

And the bonus, fresh deliziosa pasta from Italy is flown in every Saturday. The cheese and produce offerings are also pretty awesome. If they have the giant artichokes - buy one. Simply too good to be believed!! The staff is simply amazing and always ready to make helpful suggestions for the preparation of your meals.

Can you see the large artichokes and robust basil plants?
OK, I know, it is in the middle of the perpetual construction for the Al Sufouh Tramway making the street an un-navigable maze that could trip the likes of Alice In Wonderland. And parking is non-existent. If you aren't as lucky as I am to be close enough to walk, you can call the shop (04 450 4466) when you arrive and a nice gentleman will come out and let you into one of their dedicated parking spots. Open from 9am - 10pm. See postscripts for my best recipe – Salt Crusted Sea Bass.

Directions: you can only access the reserved parking places by coming on the slip road in front of the shop. From Sheikh Zayed Road (SZR) get onto the ramp that brings you to Dubai Marina and the light at Spinneys/Citibank. Turn right and immediately go into the slip road on your right. From Al Sufouh turn at the light at Tamani hotel (across from the Westin), and bear right turning right at the light to get onto slip road. The shop is at the end of the slip road.

Really fresh produce . . . Ripe Farm Store.

It’s organic, it’s local and it’s seasonal! I first used Ripe when they offered the “bumble box” of fresh organic locally sourced produce at the Dubai Garden Centre. Only problem was you must get there before 9am on a Saturday morning or they are sold out. Well, this sleepy head found that to be too much of challenge, and, while my creative spirit roared making dishes with the surprise ingredients in the bumble box, it really was way too much food for me Roger to eat on our own.

Voila!!! Enter the Ripe Farm Store. In addition the the same fresh produce, they carry yummy jams, spreads, organic eggs, honey, locally made cheese, fresh bread, gourmet cooking oils, gluten free items and more to add to your grocery bag.

And the prices are very reasonable. Located in the Al Manara residential area between Thanya road and Manara road, here you can select just the right amount of truly fresh produce needed.So support local farmers and artisans by shopping here. This is truly a sustainable company. Don’t forget to recycle your packaging.

The Ripe Farm Store is open 9am – 6pm every day except Friday when hours are 9am – 2pm. Check out their web site for a map to their store or if you want to pre-order or take advantage of a more convenient pick up point.  See postscripts for my best recipe Vegetable Gumbo.

And a bonus is right next door. The Al Raisi Bakery has the best naan stuffed with ground meat (Keem Naan), or potatoes (Aaloo Naan). The Iranian bread, Waggafi, is great. Warm and soothing it is best right out of the oven.

Choithrams on Al Wasl  . . .

This Choithrams is lovingly called the “Triscuit” Choithrams because it is the ONLY place in Dubai that carries this little treat.Also, beef stock is non-existent in Dubai but this grocery has frozen oxtails that make great stock. 

Some days I just have to have a good hot dog – I can usually find my favorite plump Ballpark Beef Franks here.  Another favorite, Grape Nuts cereal, is occasionally here.

This past Thanksgiving Deborah Murray and and I joined forces for the "Great Butterball Turkey Hunt." We split up the most likely grocery stores and went hunting. Choithrams was the only place we found the iconic Butterball Turkeys for our regal feasts. See postscript for my best recipe Homemade Beef Broth.

Directions: On SZR take exit 43 west (Al Manara road). Turn left at Al Wasl and store will be a bit down the road on your right. 

Safetestway  . . .

This is always worth a stop when I am in the neighborhood as it has some hard to find American products. I usually just take a slow stroll through the aisles and pick up anything that looks interesting. I can sometimes find frozen English muffins, Roger’s favorite Special K cereal with almonds, and turkey stock around Thanksgiving.

Diana Mullin says it is the ONLY store in Dubai that sells Bisquick. Looking for marshmallow cream – it is here!  Deborah Murray advises caution when shopping in Safetesway. "If they (Safetestway) had a gun they couldn't hold you up more. I was excited to find all the Swifter products but when I looked at the price for a mop it was $59! Buyer beware!"  This store is located off the SZR just south (towards the Marina) from the Mazaya Center. 

Directions: From the Marina on SZR take exit 47 Al Haldiqa street (Safa Park will be on your right), at the light turn right and go thru the light at Athar street until you come to the light at 35 street then turn right. Go straight thru two roundabouts. At the third roundabout take second exit (left) and a little bit down the way on your right is Safetestway. Coming from Old Dubai on SZR take exit 49 Umm Amara Street taking a very hard right (really a u-turn) onto the service road. Safestway will be a bit down the road on your left. Parking is behind the store. 

Park & Shop  . . .

Another good source for American products, nice pork products and Ore-Ida products (including the beloved Tater Tots).  It is located on Al Wasl road between Al Sheif road and Al Hadiqa street. I did find a nice Park & Shop in the Saba Towers in Jeremiah Lakes Towers where I was taking my Arabic lessons but parking was a bit of a problem.

Directions: Coming from old Dubai take exit 45 (Umm Al Sheif road). At the next light (Al Wasl road) turn right go a ways down and Park & Shop will be on your right at 19th street. From the Dubai Marina on the SZR take exit take exit 43 west (Al Manara) turning right at Al Wasl. Pass over Umm Al Sheif road and store will be a bit down on your right.  

Spinney’s . . .

I use the Marina branch for “quick” shopping trips but must go to the “big” Spinneys on Umm Al Sheif road for serious shopping. Spinney’s carries a lot of British items but you can find some American products too. 

I didn't think my kitchen could function without Swanson brand chicken or vegetable stock. Alas, Spinneys only sporadically have these in stock so I just make my own. The fresh organic pork chops from Kenya are always fantastically moist and delicious. And white grape vinegar is a precious treasure when stocked.

Directions: From Old Dubai on the SZR take exit 45 (Umm Al Sheif road) Spinney's will be on your left. From Dubai Marina take SZR and exit at exit 43 west (Al Manara road) turning right at Al Wasl road. Spinney's will be on your right at Umm Al Sheif road. 

Our son Russell with 
Spice Merchant Yousef and Katie
The old Spice Souq . . .

In an earlier blog, Dubai Souq Shopping, I introduced you to my personal spice merchant Yousef. He still is the go-to-guy for spices. If you are having trouble finding the spices you crave, go see Yousef and tell him I sent you. You are certain to get a little “extra treat.” The best saffron and dried lavender can be found in the spice souk. Directions are on the other blog post.

A bit of advice from Deborah . . .  "My motto is when you see it BUY it! You never know when that product will ever appear again. I saw Breyers Ice Cream in Carrfour ONE time and never again. Was it really there?"

And finally - probably the hardest to find in Dubai . . . SNOW!

Cruising along the highway last week I found myself behind this vehicle advertising the services of Desert Snow, artificial snow and other "winter effects."

Please invite me if you host a Winter Wonderland party in Dubai!

Other hard to find ingredients . . .

Arabic Zeal blogger Holly Warah says it is impossible to find real vanilla extract, smoked paprika or Mexican chili powder. So just quit looking! Regarding spices, she recommends, “It seems foolish to purchase the little imported jars of spices. More economical to buy the bags of spices and put them into containers. They last quite a long time.”   

The Butcher Shop and Grill
Beef . . . I have given up on any grocery store beef. Just doesn't have the taste we like. I have been buying our steaks at The Butcher Shop and Grill on Jeremiah Beach Walk. The bonus being I get my exercise in with a robust 40 minute round trip jaunt.

Omani Lobster  . . .  on our weekend at The Chedi Muscat I had the most wonderful Omani lobster.  And believe it or not at Carrefour in the Mall of the Emirates the Omani lobster, while frozen, is still very delicious. The lobster tales are huge - packed with large knuckles of lobster meat. One tail is plenty for two people. They are my choice for special celebratory meals.

Wine and alcohol delivery . . . Centaurusts International. Yes, you read this correctly, your favorite spirits and vinos delivered right to your door. Go to the web site and register. Then proceed to select the items you wish to purchase. I will admit that the selections are somewhat limited and there are no wine descriptions but since they carry some of our favorites we have no problem making the minimum order of AED 1200. You pay AED 100 for delivery. If you order early in the morning it usually arrives that afternoon. Shortly after placing your order, the delightful customer service person calls to schedule to delivery time

P.S.  If you want to turn off the web site’s annoying music look on left for the button just under “Browse for brands.” 

Don't forget . . . Did I miss any special place you have discovered? Any special ingredient(s) you are still lusting after? Let me know by leaving a comment below. We will see what we can do to help.

Postscripts . . .
Here are some of my favorite recipes!

Salted Crusted Sea Bass
1 very fresh whole Sea Bass, stomach cleaned, back fin removed (as large as needed) 
Fennel, sliced
20 ml Sambuco
1 stalk of thyme
1 stalk of rosemary
305 g (one container) sea rock salt
150 grams table salt
1 cup of water

Pre heat oven to 210˚ C. Marinate the fennel in Sambuca for one hour. Stuff fish stomach cavity with fennel, thyme and rosemary. In a bowl combine rock salt and table salt adding water to make a paste. Line baking tray with parchment paper and arrange ½ of the salt mixture on the tray placing fish on salt. Completely cover the fish with remaining salt sealing the edges. Place tray in oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Crust should be hard. Crack crust. Remove fish

Vegetable Gumbo – serves 4
1 onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
9 ounces canned plum tomatoes
¼ pound okra, sliced
5 ounces spinach, chopped
½ small head of cabbage, shredded
1 ½ garlic cloves, crushed
1 ½ cloves & 1 bay leaf tied in cheesecloth sachet
3 fresh basil leaves, chopped1 ounce filé powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ quart vegetable stock
1 cup cooked brown or white rice

In a large soup pot, combine all the vegetables and cook over low heat until wilted and the onions become transparent. Add sachet and remaining seasonings. Cook for 5 minutes.  Warm vegetable stock and add to pot bringing it to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Discard sachet and serve over warm rice. NOTE: You can adjust the portions of vegetables and seasoning to suit your taste. And as with most “one pot” dishes, it is better the second day!

Homemade Beef Broth
1.3 kg of oxtails (2 packages from Choitrams)
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
2 cups chopped carrots
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onions
3 cloves garlic
½ cup chopped tomatoes
2 cups red wine
I bay leaf
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

Preheat oven to 450˚ F. Place bones in a roasting pan and roast for 1 hour. Turn bones once to make sure they brown evenly. Transfer to large stock pot. Place roasting pan on top of stove over medium heat and add grapeseed oil, carrots, celery, onions and garlic. Cook until the vegetables are caramelized. Add tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Deglaze pan with wine and cook until most of the wine has cooked off. Transfer vegetables and remaining juices to stock pot. Add bay leaf, peppercorns and enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 6 to 8 hours. Strain through a fine sieve. You can store this in refrigerator for up to 4 days or freeze.TIP: I freeze broth in ice cube trays so I can just pull out what I need.


  1. Butterball turkeys are probably quite exotic where you are. Do the locals ever cook them?

    1. I do not think they cooked them before the expats started arriving in droves. Way too hard to carry across the desert on a camel! Really do not think there are any Arab turkeys!

  2. I certainly sympathize with you, but having married an Egyptian, I rarely cook American things anymore. Plus, since my husband had heart surgery, beef is off the menu. *sniffle* Luckily, there are lots of Egyptian dishes I enjoy, like chicken shawarma, babaganough, koshary, and lentil soup. :-)

    1. Just some great tastes of Egyptian food on a Foodie Walking Tour of Dubai. Stay tuned that blog is coming up next!

  3. Replies
    1. Try Choitrams on Al Wasl or Safestest Way.

  4. Hi Katie. Park & Shop now has a fantastic, huge 'cash and carry' store in Dubai Investment Park. Def worth a visit and it sells fresh smoked haddock from France (ask the fishmonger - he has it hidden in the fridge). Fiona

  5. i have been to your blog many times and always find it quite interesting. all the content shared is so well maintained. i really like it.
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    1. Thanks . . I hope you keep following me.

  6. Dubai is really a nice place to visit. I have been there many times and really enjoyed my every visit. But the thing which i cant forget about Dubai is Dhow Cruise Dubai Dinner. It was such a nice experience for me.

  7. Hi Katie, thank you for the mention on your blog! will be trying your gumbo recipe tomorrow... something to keep us warm with all the snow about.

    1. You are too funny . . . I really would love to get invited to a "Snow" party in the desert. . . and could write about it. Keep me in mind.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Smoked paprika is available in Spinney Motor City.

    1. Thanks . . . what do you make with it?

  10. Excellent post, with great information! I am currently in Fujairah and looking to make a shopping trip to Dubai with several friends and we were wondering if there are any stores that sale can soup, and possibly Chef Boyardee? Thanks so much in advance.

  11. I would suggest the big Spinney's on Al Wasl Road, Safetestway on SZR and/or Park & Shop on Al Wasl. Have a great shopping trip!

  12. Hi..Thanks for sharing this blog and we will try to do all type of recipes.
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  14. This post is such a godsend!! I should know better by now but I still find myself surprised when I can't find something 'normal' at the store. I had a hard time finding ground cloves of all things a few weeks back!

    So excited to see in your picture from Choithrams that they have graham crackers!!! I haven't made it there yet, but now that I know they have the crackers I'll definitely be making the trip! Also, I'm totally with you about Markets & Platters! That place is amazing and the salmon is significantly cheaper than at Spinneys or Waitrose.

    1. Glad I can help with your shopping. Yes, Market & Platters is the best. I stop every time I am back in Dubai and load up with fish, produce and fresh pasta.

    2. Hi katie! I'll be coming to dubai in a weeks time andcwss wondrring if tresh camel milk is resdily available?


  15. Great info and honest review about every shops. It would be really nice if anyone post about the best playstation price in Dubai.

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  17. "so delicious" icecream and coconut milk

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  20. One more question. Isnt seafood from dubai fish market fresher and cheaper than at platters?

  21. WOw! Never thought Grocery Shopping in Dubai can be one of the adventure things to do in Dubai.

    Wonderful write & a very lovely blog.
    Thanks! for all the sharing.

    - Sally Sen

  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  23. I plan on moving there in a few months, can I find things like tootsie rolls jolly ranchers , hot dogs polish sausage

  24. How is this being done? I am quite impressed. I like any technology that deals with my kitchen. I even bought a tool from, is very cheap, works amazingly and it saves me a lot of time.

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  26. Did you obtain a liquor license in order to get the wine?

  27. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  28. Dubai is a wonder land, a dream destination, an altogether a different world... thank you Katie for sharing your experience as an expat!

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