As you may have noticed, I’ve just had an incredible holiday to the United Arab Emirates (the UAE). We spent 2 glorious weeks in the UAE exploring the two main cities – Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I wrote about my top picks for places to eat in the UAE and my favourite breakfast experience at the Burj Al Arab already, but today I wanted to show you how the price of food compares with what I usually buy at home here in Australia.
Everyone loves to travel and when they return home they think about their incredible experiences and share crazy stories with friends and family. But not many people would take a good look at how life actually works when in another country. Many of us just walk around the tourist sections and don’t really get to see what it’s like to live in this new country we’re exploring.
Well, I did things a little differently when I was in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the UAE but it is not as big as Dubai and made it the perfect choice for me to explore what food costs. It has a less rushed feel than Dubai and it was the perfect place for me to see what life was really like if I were to one day move to the UAE. It’s also a little bit cheaper than living in Dubai.
To start with, the people are different, and that’s what gives Abu Dhabi and the UAE it’s appeal. You have people from all over the world coming to work and live in the UAE as the country expands rapidly, and with many people comes many different traditional foods and ways of eating. In fact, you can get food of just about any type while you’re there.
For instance, I ate:
- A traditional Emirati meal called machboos
- American subs from Quiznos
- Street kebabs from the old part of Dubai
- Malai Kofta from an Indian Restaurant
- Coffee and muffins from Starbucks
- Zaatar croissants from the local convienience store
- Kunafa from a mall cafe that specialises in kunafa pastries
So if food isn’t an issue, I wanted to take a look at the supermarkets to see what I could buy if I were cooking in my own home in the UAE. And boy did I find some interesting things!
Supermarket Prices in the UAE
There are a few main supermarket chains in the UAE, namely:
- Spinneys Market
I mostly shopped at Carrefour and Lulu because both of these had regular supermarkets and then also Hypermarkets where you could buy electricals, clothing, TVs and video consoles, outdoor furniture as well as many other non-supermarket type products. These hypermarkets were the equivalent of Big W, Kmart or Target (but you could still buy a full grocery shop and throw in a new flat screen Samsung TV or a 600L LG fridge as well).
The cost of groceries varies between store, and how big the store is – the bigger stores seem to have the lower prices but it’s not always the case. I also took at look at a local small grocery store, not a convenience store, just a smaller chain (he equivalent of IGA in Australia) and they were actually cheaper on a lot of the staples – especially bread.
However, no matter the store I looked at there were some similarities across what I saw:
- Every branded item usually had a cheaper more local brand available as well. For instance, Lipton, Nescafe, Philadelphia, Yoplait were all brands I knew and recognised, but near them on the shelves were other Arabic and Indian brands that were significantly cheaper. In the picture below the Lipton tea is between 18-25 Dirhams whereas the other brands are between 4-10 Dirhams for the same black or green tea (UAE currency is called Dirhams).
- Products from Europe and the UK seemed to be the most expensive, or more expensive than I can buy them for in Australia. Nutella was more expensive than home, and sweets and chocolates from UK and European brands were dearer.
- Products from America seemed to be of similar price to home, but this varied depending on the item itself.
- Spices and pulses were very cheap. I could get almost a kilo of dried lentils or of cardamon pods for the same price as I can get less than 100g in Austalia.
- Fruit and vegetables had a mix of prices, and it usually depended on where the item came from. For instance, UAE carrots were about half the price of Australian carrots, and the onions from India were cheaper than those from Spain. Sometimes it was the other way around.
- A lot of the beef sold either came from Australia or New Zealand and this pushes the price up, but compared to buying Australian beef in Australia it was only a few dollars extra.
- Seafood was cheaper than I can buy in Australia and I believe that’s because a lot of it is caught around the Gulf anyway.
- Nuts were more expensive than Australia, although you can get all types of nuts. Pine nuts were the only exception because they were significantly cheaper.
- There cost of organic foods were much closer in price than in Australia. For instance in Australia you need to be about $3-$5 extra for the organic goods, whereas in the UAE the organics were only about $1 dearer.
- The best dairy to buy is local Gulf country dairy products because they do dairy well and it’s much, much cheaper than other brands. For instance, a 300ml Yoplait yoghurt costs about 7-9 Dirhams whereas the local UAE 300ml yoghurt was only 2 Dirhams – and in all honesty tasted less sweet than the Yoplait does. This equates to about 70c for 300mlo of UAE yoghurt compared to $4 for Yoplait (in approx AUS dollars equivalent as at March 2016). Cheeses, yoghurts and creams are all amazing and good quality with the most noteable brand seeming to be Almarai.
- Bread is everywhere, and you can get every type you’re after – Lebanese, Afghani, sliced bread, white toast, wholemeal, brown, organic, spelt, and anything in between. Bread is cheap and plentiful so you will always find it available.
It’s been really interesting comparing the prices of supermarket foods in the UAE with Australia. I particularly wanted to do it because everyone says it’s really expensive living in the UAE, but you know what, after actually comparing the prices I don’t believe food shopping in the UAE will be expensive. Now I say this because I would happily use new brands other than the ones I know, and as you can see from the list above, most items have a cheaper brand available.
So, would you like to live in the UAE? Do you think your grocery list would be cheap or expensive?