May 20, 2011

Grocery Shopping in Johannesburg

Woolworths is probably South Africa's most expensive supermarket chain, but also its best, by far. I have never found such good and consistent food quality anywhere in the world. The other (in my opinion inferior) nationwide grocery chains are Spar (where they have the best German-style bread, which admittedly can't be found at Woolie's, and a more international selection), Pick 'n Pay and Checkers (the latter two the cheapest and lowest quality, but good for your cleaning supplies and some packaged foods).


What I miss from the U.S. in terms of one-stop shopping is made up by the existence of many smaller specialty stores. You just have to get used to the idea of having several stops on your grocery route, and perhaps never quite checking everything off your list. Some people swear by the Fruit and Veg store at Fourways, but I have to admit I haven't tried it yet (mainly because fruits and vegetables at Woolworth are of such good quality). Fournos Bakery has excellent breads and pastries and a nice terrace to sip your cappuccino. If you struggle, like me, to find things like muffin liners and chocolate chips, check out Kadies, a bakery supply store in Kingfisher Shopping Centre. There also used to be a good seafood market at Fourways, but unfortunately it has closed.

There are also a number of butcheries and I highly recommend getting your meat at one of those. I always struggle with the names of the various cuts of meats in a new country (for instance, you won't find a chuck roast in your regular supermarket, and a tenderloin is called "fillet," rhyming with "millet"). In those cases, it's best to go to a butcher and explain what you need. Star Butchery next to the Indaba Hotel (very convenient if you're living in Dainfern or Fourways Gardens) doesn't look like much but I've found the meat there very well priced and good. When I had to find large amounts of Bratwurst, Bockwurst and Brezeln last year for our traditional Oktoberfest, I did all my shopping at the Schwaben Butchery in Edenvale. It was a bit out of the way for me but a virtual paradise for any German or Austrian expat, and I snatched every last Laugenbrötchen they had while conversing with the employees in my native Swabian.  Berliner Butchery in Deco Park caters to a similar market and has won numerous awards for its food offerings. It is on my list to check out next.

Making a German Zwetschgenkuchen is always a challenge but I found several jars of
Sauerkirschen at the Schwaben Butchery to make this Kirschkuchen for our Oktoberfest

If you're looking for big U.S.-style discount stores, Makro is your best approximation. It's similar to Sam's Club (and currently in negotiations to be acquired by Wal-Mart), but not anywhere close to the quality found at Costco. I've also found that their prices are not much discounted at all, leaving you with large quantities of food you won't have any room to store. Unless you're on a very tight budget, it's not worth the trip.

If you're an expat newly arrived in South Africa, I recommend finding your closest Woolworths and perhaps Spar and stick to those. You won't be disappointed, and it will be the  most convenient. You might pay slightly higher prices than elsewhere, but in a country with an exchange rate where you have to multiply everything by seven or worse, who can really keep track?

Also see my grocery shopping post on Expat Arrivals.

12 comments :

Stephanie said...

Hi Sine. I just ran across your blog and have to laugh at some of your posts as I have relayed some of the exact same ideas on my blog and experienced some of the same frustrations. (Home Affairs, milk, Makro craziness, car prices, driver's licenses, etc) We moved to Durban from Miami in December and while my husband is South African, there is still a whole lot of adjusting for me to do... A chocolate chip hint is to to just chop up bars because the choco chips here are kinda of icky in my opinion. Fruit and Veg is great in that you can pick your own stuff out (not as prepackaged as Woolie's) AND you don't have to weigh it in the produce department, you can do it at the till. At any rate, here's a link to my blog and good luck with everything!

http://elliottstefan.blogspot.com/2011/05/grocery-store.html

Stephanie

Sine said...

Hi Stephanie, I checked out your blog and love it! Yes, pretty much the same experiences and frustrations. And we'd probably miss those same exact things if we went back... Great tip regarding chocolate, that is precisely what I ended up doing, buying the darkest and most expensive chocolate bar and chopping it up. I bought those sort of large round chips one time and they weren't edible!

Jackie said...

Hi, Steph - My husband and I are here for 2 yrs. on assignment and I agree that the chocolate chips they have in S. Africa are awful. I sometimes chop up big bars of the 70% dark chocolate bars ( a higher percent makes the "chips" too bitter). I'm lucky to have grown kids who visit from the states. Whenever they come, I ask them to bring over Hershey's chocolate chips. There's also a store at Broad Acres (Super Spar) in Johannesburg, which caters to the American's desires - they sell Hershey's chocolate chips but they are very expensive there. Jackie

Sine said...

Hi Jackie - are you in Joburg as well? I agree, Superspar is the one place you can find American foods, they even had the Starbucks Frappuccino bottles for a while! You could also try that Kadies place for baking supplies, my South African friends swear by it but I have to say I'm also dubious about their chocolate chips.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know where you can find pumpkin pie filling in Jozi?

Sine said...

I have no earthly idea (just writing a post about how I'd like to boycott Christmas), but I have a friend who reportedly makes an excellent pumpkin pie. Will have to ask her but suspect she actually makes the filling from scratch...

Kelly Pretoria said...

We miss the comforts of the US, got tired of the pricey items over in Superspar. Expat Grocer has an expanding array of items, but cater mainly to specialty packages for a taste of home. Good to know about the Chocolate Chips, I'll make a package request for Chocolate Chips, and see what they come up with. For the Holiday's we ordered their turkey day package, and recently got the SW Package for our superbowl party.

www.expatgrocer.com

Sine said...

Sorry Kelly, I just realized I never responded to this. Very interesting indeed. Though one would think that shipping it from overseas makes it more expensive? Are you actually with expat grocer or just a customer?

Raj Arora said...

Grocery shopping is one of the most tedious among all the household chores that you undertake. But no matter what, every household will have to spare at least 2 hours of precious time towards shopping. And still the nearby grocery shop could be closed for some reason or you may forget to pick up some items or it could be out of stock – just at the moment when you need them the most. This results in your having to plan another trip again wasting more time or search in other stores draining all your energy!

W. A. Jeffrey said...

I think grocery shopping is fun as long as you develop the right attitude. Going to different specialized shops is something that used to happen all the time in the USA before the big box era and is still common in some cities like NYC and Chicago. Sounds like fun if you have the time.

On exchange rate math: if you are wanting to convert the rand prices to you home currency (assuming the home currency is worth more) you would divide not multiply. So for rand to dollar at the current rate you would take the rand amount and divide it by about 14.

Sine said...

Touche on multiplication vs division. Maybe THAT'S why life seemed so expensive there at the beginning:-)

Sine said...

That's the way to go, making baked goods from scratch. I learned to make a whole lot of things from scratch in SA. Is it really raining now in Benoni? You'd think that it's already very dry on the highveld by mid-May...