5 August 2014

Shopping in Sarawakian Supermarkets

One of the things I was looking forward to on our move to Miri was the wide range of food that would be available compared to Astana, particularly fresh vegetables. 

One of the big challenges of Expat life is learning what is available to buy in your new home and how you will have to adapt your culinary skills to deal with it.  Food shopping in Astana was, initially, a challenge because of the language/alphabet barrier.  We soon learned what we could and could not buy and by the time we left had found just about everything we needed.  Malaysia, of course has no such language barrier and has a good reputation for food.  Unlike Astana import is easy so there is a wider range of produce available.

While we were still in the hotel we started to look around the different supermarkets that were available, the best seem to be the out of town Hypermarket – ‘Giant’ conveniently on the way to/from the school and our very local ‘GK’ and 'Pottery' (which sells everything except Pottery). 
Premium British Supermarket products can be bought here.
Quite a surprise.
They stock a complete range of Western and Chinese product as well as local favourites and some Indian stuff.  The Western food seems to come from UK or Australia/New Zealand.  Most of the UK products are Waitrose branded.  Waitrose is a premium, upmarket supermarket in the UK and it was a real surprise to find them freely available and at a similar price.  British expats can rejoice in the easy availability of home favourites Baked Beans, Tomato Ketchup, HP Sauce, Marmite etc, there is less to excite the European palate.  I am overjoyed to be able to get a full selection of baking products including food colouring, flavouring and speciality sugar (I no longer need to grind my own or mix in molasses).  In fact the supermarkets excel at providing a wide, complete range of just about any dried or canned good you can think of.
Soya milk for those with allergies.  
I had heard that Pork was difficult to find in Malaysia but most supermarkets have a good non Halal section where we can buy Ham, Bacon, Frankfurters etc.  Wine and Beer is also for sale but we are not big consumers of alcohol in the home.  
Indian and Chinese food is popular and there are lots of  ingredient
options - this range of 'easy cook'  curry spices comes from Pakistan
The supermarkets do not perform so well when it comes to fresh food (which is plentiful in the markets - no one stop shopping here).  The meat selection in general is not great -  fresh chicken is available in many permutations (whole, fillets, feet, thighs etc etc) but it is a little watery and lacking in taste.   Frozen lamb and frozen beef can be found but it does not look particularly appetising. 

Food colourings and flavourings for baking - an unexpected bonus
Dairy is another item that surprised me with the restrictions.  Cheese is limited – most cheese sold seems to be in packets of processed slices.  We can get a better range at GK and Pottery (including, to my Husband's delight, cheddar) but it is expensive.  Fresh milk is in the chiller cabinet but, like Astana, most seems to be UHT longlife.  It is fairly tasty and better quality than the Kazakh milk.  I have become used to the way things are done in Kazakhstan though because I was genuinely upset to be restricted to a single type of sour cream!
There is a very poor juice selection - with a limited range
of flavour.  Most is from concentrate and over sweet.
My daughter is somewhat distraught at the lack of cherry juice and indeed the range of juices available is more akin to that in a British supermarket – we were spoiled with the fantastic offerings in Kazakhstan. Funnily enough we also expected a great range of teas, another thing we were spoiled with in Astana and the UK but sadly average blended tea seems to be the norm here with only one or two speciality offerings. 
Blended tea seems to be popular - very few
speciality teas are easily available.
I understand from friends that Brunei is the place to go to buy meat, cheese etc and, for those who like to have a glass of wine or beer, a duty free shop is available between the borders.  Our visas are being processed at the moment so we have not been to visit.  I also have the number of a lady who makes Cumberland sausages – I will be giving her a call shortly to try out her meat. 

The fruit and vegetable selection is also surprisingly limited in the supermarkets.  I have been advised to shop in separate green-grocers or a local market for these and it is no real hardship to pop over and enjoy the wide selection available there.  All have been heavily treated with pesticides, however, so have to be disinfected and cleaned  or peeled thoroughly before use

We have settled into a rhythm now - Supermarket for dried and staple goods, markets for fresh.  There is a good complex (E Mart), on the way from the School which has a supermarket set next to a market and our home bank branch - a useful combination.

Click on the picture for more information on life in Borneo.

Ersatz Expat


  1. How exciting and what a drastic change in destination. I always love the first outings into the local supermarkets although it is not always easy as you say. It does tell you sp much about the host counrty though AND you and new meals to your recepie book!!!! Good luck and enjoy!

    1. Thanks - it is exciting isn't it, particularly when faced with a wide range rather than a very restricted one. Like you I end up with 'country specific' repertoires.

  2. I can tell that you've got it licked already xx

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  7. I was curious to the out of town Hypermarket Giant and the ‘GK’ and 'Pottery where you were able to find all sorts of grocery specially the Indian spices, where these in Miri Sarawak?

    1. Yes all in Miri. Both GK and Pottery are at opposite ends of Jalan Piasau, GK in the commercial centre by the roundabout on the Lutong road and Pottery on the way to the Piasau camp. Giant is out of town, Jalan Pujut 7 on the way to Kuala Baram

  8. Welcome to Miri! Er, actually you've been in this small city earlier than me LOL! I'm Malaysian but not from this part of the country. Don't know whether you're still here even, since reportedly there had been a somewhat mass exodus of expats from this city last year due to issues with the oil and gas industry. Anyway, wherever you are stationed right now, best wishes. But if you're still in Miri, or anywhere else in Malaysia, don't forget to have a go and sample the array of local delicacies at one of the big open air ramadhan bazaars all over the country! In Miri of course it's at the stadium :) Have fun!