Step through the golden doors of the Sama Mall, home to one of Kuwait’s chain grocery stores, Lulu’s Hypermarket.
As I write this, I am five weeks into living in Kuwait. It was only this evening that I cooked my first meal here, though. I have actually been to this Lulu’s around ten times already so you would think that at some point I would have purchased actual groceries. Alas, no. I purchased items such as tupperware to prepare for possible cooking. I bought pre-packaged wholesome food like pickles and ramen. I even bought tea cups with funny faces on them. But legit groceries? Not until last night. This is in no way Lulu’s fault. If anything it is so big and offers so much that I get distracted and have no time left for actual cooking. Plus, I used to be a good cook. A really good one. However just this week I started a small fire and fireworks show in my microwave as a result of a ramen incident gone wrong. So clearly something has changed with me. Perhaps it is time to get ahold of the Erin of my culinary past and be a real adult again. Lulu’s it is.
Now, I am finding that there are a few grocery markets in the area: the Sultan Center, Lulu’s Hypermarket, and Carrefour. Word on the street is that the Sultan Center is a touch more expensive and Carrefour is the least expensive, and that puts Lulu’s somewhere in the Middle. Lulu’s is also the closest to my apartment. Just a short 10 minute cab ride away in a neighborhood called Egaila (there are others around the area too) so this is where I end up most often.
Most grocery stores are in malls here because Kuwaiti’s spend a majority of their time in malls, so that makes sense.
The top floor of Lulu’s is all the grocery items. There are the same sections you would find in any American grocery store. There are a lot of prepared foods as well. I would say their selection is actually better in this section than in the states.
There are really only two differences to note. The first is that the seafood aisle is just out in the open. In the states it is behind a glass counter and an employee gets and packages the fish, shrimp, lobster, etc. that you want and hands it to you. This is how it is with the meat and prepared foods here as well, but not the seafood. I once witnessed a 3 year old girl put gloves on and take a whole giant (dead) fish in her hands. She then proceeded to shake it around in her face and squeal with delight. Then she put it back and ran off. Not sure where her doting parents were but, hey, at least she used gloves.
The second difference is that they don’t weigh and price the produce at the checkout counter. There is a separate counter in the produce section where you hand them what you picked out and they weight it and wrap it right there for you. I actually think this system is more efficient. Then again, I’ve only purchased bananas from that section so who am I to judge.
Now there are some foods that they don’t carry here. Or if they do, they may be there one week and then not come back for months, I am told. Bacon and other pork products will never be carried at any grocery store in this country as it is considered Haram, or forbidden, according to the Muslim faith. Spaghettios are not considered haram but they are also not found here. I think that the universe must feel that if I can’t treat my ramen noodles right, then I don’t deserve this special canned good. They also don’t carry boxed Mac and Cheese or Takis. On my last trip I found a canned Mac and Cheese made by Heinz that I hadn’t seen before. I purchased a few of them thinking that if I trust them with my ketchup, this product must be good. WRONG! To put it delicately, it sucked.
Now I am sure there are other American products that one can not get here, but these are the only ones near and dear to my heart, so moving on. There are also some great products that are more influenced by the region. Like the product below.
The second floor is home goods. There are toys, electronics, kitchen and bathroom goods/supplies, home decor, and clothing. To get there you get to take a ramp. In NY they have escalators for people and escalators for carts. I thought that was cool. This is even cooler to me.
The truly amazing thing here that has me going up and down these electronic ramps is that they are magnetic!! Your shopping cart will not roll. You can let it go, you can attempt to shove it (yes, I attempted this in the name of Science of course) and IT WILL NOT BUDGE. Tell me that having a fully stocked grocery cart on an incline that won’t roll isn’t cool.
Note: This is NOT the aforementioned fully stocked grocery cart.
Shopping on this floor is the fun stuff. This is where I bought my magenta water jug and bento lunch boxes that I haven’t used yet. I have purchased cleaning products here, though, that I have actually used. They have American cleaning products but they are slightly more expensive. I stick with local products because they are way cheaper and as far as I can tell, they work just fine. Except garbage bags. They seem to be super flimsy here. I’ve had to learn to take out the trash well before the overflow point to avoid rippage. Maybe this is actually a good thing? I’ll think on it later.
Now for the checkout lines.
The cashiers work very hard and there are usually multiple baggers in each line. For about 250 fils (under a dollar) they will even bring your groceries to you car and load them for you, or in my case, the school bus. They are very helpful. I can not say the same for everyone in line with me however. If you can imagine people being even more impatient than me, picture it now.
One lady behind me decided that, after I loaded my groceries on the belt, I should move up. However, I was unable to do so. I couldn’t move forward because there was another customer ahead of me paying. Trust me lady, I don’t particularly enjoy lines. I’m not just gonna hang out here for a while and chill. There were metal railings on either side of the line as well. So short of hurdling one of those, I wasn’t going anywhere. This lady though clearly expected something more from me though as she started to inch her cart, with a broom sticking out of the top, forward. She kept pushing it forward several times and began tapping me with the card/broom combo several times. I refuse to push the person in front of me who is now three inches away from me. I was stuck there with Broomy McPusherton until the person in front of me was finished checking out.
Luckily, this only happened once and it was within my first week of being here when I was still in my “this is a fun adventure” phase. Even though I am very happy here, I have moved into my “this is my life” phase wherein if someone should do this again I will hit them with a glare composed of the fire of a thousand suns. We all know how I am with fire (I’m lookin’ at you Ramen) so I wouldn’t mess with me.
All in all, Lulu’s hypermarket is a great grocery store. It’s parking lot can be a hot mess at times (literally hot, like 105 degrees yesterday) but I don’t drive so who cares.
Now to cook the groceries that I actually purchased this time. Hopefully the stove doesn’t go the way of the microwave. Wish me luck!