22 June 2015

Supermarkets in Ipoh

Getting groceries is one of those everyday activities that should be so simple but can be radically different depending on the country you are in. It is one of my favourite things to do as I find that visiting supermarkets tells you so much about a country and the people that live there, they condense a lot of what is important for daily life in one place.  Everyone likes to visit the market when they get to their holiday destination as it gives a colourful insight into daily life.  I find the supermarket does the same, albeit in a rather less glamorous and photogenic way and I often stop off at one, even when I am on holiday just to browse.  I can also say that while I love to visit  and get produce from markets wherever possible life is busy and sometimes a supermarket can just be easier, particularly with three children in tow.

Wet Market Section
In 1990s Diyarbakir (Turkey) we went to a variety of stores that reminded me of the type of all purpose ‘feed store’ seen in western movies.  We would stand at the counter and hand over the grocery list.  In Nigeria we would visit 4 supermarkets each trip as what was not available in one was potentially abundant in another (and this information would inevitably be forwarded to all friends leading to a shortage!), the butcher and fishmonger would bring meat directly to us in a rather foul smelling van.  In Venezuela we basked in an abundance of American produce, in Norway there was a shortage of fruit but an abundance of hot dogs and whale meat and in Kazakhstan I could pick up cheap caviar with my bread but had to go to a separate bazaar for good quality if seasonal fruit and vegetables.  The Netherlands (Albert Heijn) and The UK (Waitrose and Lidl) are, in many cases the gold standard for me – produce from around the world, available fresh and at my convenience. 

Beautiful Fruit and Vegetables
Shopping in Sarawak was bizarre as I could buy Waitrose branded products in my local supermarket together with Australian, Pakistani and American imports but for good quality fresh produce we had to go elsewhere. Shopping here in the Peninsula is even easier.  Just about everything is available from the local supermarkets with the exception (as in Sarawak) of good quality meat.  I have explored the meat markets in Ipoh but most of the produce is simply not really tasty.  I have been spoiled in previous postings as meat in Kazakhstan was ok (if you knew where to go) and in the UK we got it direct from source as my Father in Law kept his own herd of cattle.  In Venezuela as well the meat was melt in the mouth beautiful.  I find that meat here is expensive for what you get, I buy the expensive cuts and stretch a small amount by bulking out with extras.

Fresh fish
Other than the meat, however, I can get literally everything under the one roof and the quality is good.  Ipoh is well served for fresh produce, being near the Cameron Highlands we get local temperate produce as well as the inevitable tropical offerings.  I have never seen so many different types of Mangos on offer and I can buy three different types of cucumber and a huge array of tropical greens.  A lot of the fruit is imported from a variety of destinations; China and the US seem to be the most common.  No matter what the origin I always wash and sterilise it before eating, just to make sure. 

Malaysia has a love affair with instant noodles
Rice and noodles are staples here, in fact one of the biggest problems I have is tracking down a 1kg bag (which will last us 2 months or so) as most people buy gigantic sacks.  The array is almost bewildering, Jasmine, Basmati, Thai, Long Grain, Short Grain, Glutinous, Boil in the Bag, Red Rice, Brown Rice…… the selection for noodles, instant or otherwise is equally extensive.  Being a mixed race country I can get Indian, Chinese and Malay ingredients very easily and pretty much everything that I need to cook western favourites.  Unlike Sarawak, however, there are fewer western convenience foods and mixes available in Ipoh. I suspect that KL, where there is a large expat community, will have more.  It is not, however, a big issue because there is such other variety.  

Rice in huge quantities, it is the main staple
Malaysia has taken to the packet mix like a duck to water.  No need to make your green curry or sambal from scratch, it is all available premade and ready to pop into the pot, just add meat and vegetables.  These are an excellent shortcut; they make tasty meals but cut out the time with the mortar and pestle.  For when I am feeling as though I want to make a bit more of an effort but not too much I have invested in jars of ready-made ginger, galangal, garlic and lemongrass paste.  I am still looking for some turmeric paste – it dyes everything yellow when I make it up myself. 

Ipoh has a large Chinese Community so pork is readily available.
Like meat bread is often inferior in the supermarkets but many have a bakery either in the same building or just next door so it is not a big issue.  Baking stuff is readily available, even self-raising flour although I tend to just add baking powder and keep only plain in the house.  Fresh milk is also more readily available here than it was in Sarawak, because we use very little, however, I tend to buy the long life, shelf stable, cartons.  Baby formula is, like in Sarawak, readily available in a number of brands.  Ready made weaning foods are also on the shelves but there is a limited variety of options.  This is not a big issue for me as I tend to make from fresh in any event or just feed family foods but I do (gasp!) keep some jars for when we are out an about.  The baby is fed up of the two options, a pumpkin based slop and a carrot based slop.  


The supermarkets are always busy, particularly at weekends
Malaysians have a sweet tooth so the chocolate, sweets, flavoured yogurt etc aisles are extensive.  Because of the range of different cultures here there is always some festival or event to celebrate and the shops will have promotions for the festivities.  The main ones are Christmas, Chinese New Year, Ramadan and Eid but even away from these times there is always something going on.

There is always some celebration....
I have a selection of supermarkets to choose from.  The Malay supermarket, Mydin, is round the corner from the children’s school.  I have an hour between collecting my daughter and my son so we often pop in there to collect formula (RM15 cheaper than elsewhere) and top up any extras I need, there are no non Halal products available there.  There is a Giant just round the corner from our home which I also use for the odd corner shop run.  Both have extensive homeware sections so are good places to pick up tea towels, charcoal, Tupperware etc, it has a non halal section but it is limited to alcohol only.

Alcohol is easily available for those who want it.
We have the option to shop at Tesco here, it is significantly more expensive than the other supermarkets and much like in the UK I find the quality of their product fairly inferior for the price paid, their fruit and vegetables often look tired and out of date and many of the dried products on the shelves are close to sell by and stale, I do pop in for English style biscuits (Jaffa Cakes, Ginger Nuts and Chocolate Digestives) from time to time.  My favourite place to shop is Aeon, the fruit and vegetables are always fresh, the seafood is very fresh and high quality and the meat is the best in town.  There is a good wet market in store and I can even buy cut flowers (surprisingly hard to find here).  The non halal section does a good range of pork meats and imported products and a good alcohol selection although the meat is more important to us as we drink alcohol only infrequently. As with all non halal sections we have to purchase the products in section and there will be a non Muslim cashier available to facilitate that. There is also what appears at a glance (I have never really bothered with it in any posting) a good organic section and they have the best cheese selection in Ipoh, I can even buy hummus, easy enough but time consuming to make fresh so I prefer to cheat.

Even fresh flowers are available
All in all, outside of Europe, possibly the least challenging posting I have lived in for stocking up the larder.  


Click on the picture for more posts on life in Ipoh.

Ersatz Expat

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