Ah….. food shopping on our tiny desert island kingdom. Yes, it’s a bit different, though you CAN shop at main-stream markets like Carrefour and Al Osra, Jazeera etc. and find most all the products you want. Perhaps. Sometimes.
But I’m a seeker of experiences, and local shopping is definitely an experience….
Central Markets are located in each of the villages, I believe, providing a… well… a central market from which to shop. Our village of Riffa has one as well, one part fruits/veggies and one part meats/seafood. Now, if you’re expecting your produce to be neatly prepared, wrapped and displayed, this is not your best bet. And if your meats must come on a green styrofoam tray with clear wrap, just click outta here right now, because the central markets aren’t like that.
But they ARE fresh, and local, and I like that…… and am willing to forego the green styrofoam trays and produce packaging to eat local.
OK, so you’ve seen the outside, lemme show you the inside of the fruits and veggies market…..
When you walk in, it’s clean, and bright, and filled to bursting with fresh fruits and veggies….. some local, some imported. Remember, this is a tiny desert island, and has a VERY short growing season for some things, it’s simply too hot here for some crops.
Gents will lift and offer their produce to you as you pass hoping to catch your eye, grab your interest, and make a sale. But of course, people end up with their favorite merchants, and mine’s all the way at the end of the building, so I walk past all the others, not making eye contact or slowing down. He was too shy to have his photo “clicked”…. but the photos above are a part of his stall.
On this day, I bought 3 big green peppers, a half-dozen heads of garlic, 2 big onions and about 6 of the finest little orange/tangerine things…. all for 900 fils ($2.35). Communication is critical…. he handed me this little tangerine, I peeled and tasted it and said “Very good! Six please!” and he started counting cases of tangerines for me to buy. As soon as I realized that he thought I wanted six CASES and I wanted six EACH….. I said “no, no…. six only. Six each.”….. he looked at me and said “only six PIECES, madame?”….. families are big here, and six cases wasn’t at all odd. OK, well, I thought it was funny.
I moved on to the Fish and Meat Market – which is a pretty authentic shopping experience…. again, if you’re squeamish, click away now.
Going inside, it’s a large, square white tiled room with drains in the floors……..Drains are to keep the building clean, washing down the blood and such after the day’s work. But there are stalls lining the walls, and from left to right, you see the first couple stalls are goats, then some beef and I *think* camel meat, but couldn’t quite understand if that’s what it was. One of the butchers kept the head of the critter handy – it was either for sale, or to show us what kind of meat he was offering. Then there is the chicken man in the corner with the pallet of chickens, then there’s another lamb/mutton guy, then the seafood begins…. and it’s SUCH a variety! Fish, crab, prawns, eel, squid, shark, it’s truly amazing all the variety offered. I tried to learn the names of many, but they escape me…. so enjoy the visuals. (You’ll have to imagine the sounds and smells).
The first time I bought chickens and had them de-boned here, I asked for the skin and bones to be kept for me. I use them with vegetables to make a rich chicken stock for soups and stews. The butcher gents looked at me with curiosity upon the request…. I explained soup, stews, and they understood, and eagerly scooped up the cast aside skin and bones…. and said, “you wish more, madame?” and gathered up other cast off bits as well….. filled my freezer with chicken stock for months!
Now, yes, there are other grocery stores, other markets, but just like any other place in the world, you end up with your favorites. I enjoy this market, no matter how difficult it can be to get to, how impossible parking may be, or how hit-and-miss the inventory…. it’s definitely an experience.