How to Grocery Shop

I hate grocery shopping. Always have. However, the novelty of grocery shopping in an entirely different region has made it enjoyable enough that here I am, discussing what is a very boring topic.

There are no grocery stores on the campus of the university I live/work at and the city is about 5km away, which means I have to bus or ride my bike to get groceries. I bought a bike basket this weekend, making life considerably easier even though it took me all weekend to figure out how to properly attach it to the bike.


So far, I’ve been to three grocery stores, all of which are found in malls. One called Gal Mart in Keruen (sometimes I like to think of this as a derivative of Walmart, and other times, as a store for gals), Green in Khan Shatyr (the yurt shaped mall), and Alma Friendly 24 in Asia Park. I’ll probably go to Alma Friendly 24 the most because it’s the closest to campus.


There are also bazaars at which you can buy groceries but I’ve been too lazy to go so far. So TBA on that. And ordering groceries is an option, which I’m sure I’ll do a lot in the winter or when I’m craving celery, which is apparently one of the things you can order.

Here are some thoughts on the grocery selection that I’ve seen so far:

  • I haven’t found kale, chard, or dark leafy greens yet. I would even be happy with the leafy tops of beets!
  • I miss coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, and kombucha. Such a west coast hippie.
  • To make up for the above, I’m hoping to acquire a taste for kefir. For now, I’m not so into it.
  • Produce in general is okay. My favourite options include: apricots, plums, peppers, and garlic. Peppers everywhere here!


  • It took me forever to find body lotion. My skin was about to slough off entirely because it’s so dry here. Every day is a battle with hair static. One of my colleagues highly recommends mayonnaise hair masks.
  • You can buy alcohol! In Alma Friendly 24, there is a separate cashier at which you have to pay for wine and hard liquor (for some reason you buy beer at the regular cash). Good for you British Columbia for catching up to the least progressive grocery store in Kazakhstan.
  • I bought some local Kazakh wine for $4 but then I couldn’t find a corkscrew. I managed to get it open by pushing it through. There were corkscrews next time I went to the store (you have to buy things you want when you see them because they might not be there next time). But the corkscrew didn’t work on the wine I bought today because the bottle top is a weird shape and so I had to push the cork through again. And then it turned out I accidentally bought a dessert wine. The daily adventures of Kazakhtan.
  • Though there is no grocery store on campus, there is a snack store. They sell these paprika crackers and soft cheeses (like Laughing Cow) that are my favourite snack.


  • I bought what I thought was a jar of plain tomato sauce for making pasta sauce but it’s very sweet and ketchup-y tasting. I tried to buy some other sauce but it had pomegranate seeds in it and was very gross. It’s okay, I’ve always been into this recipe.
  • No peanut butter or nut butters of any kind. I’m kind of okay with this though. I always liked peanut butter in theory more than in taste.
  • Finding spices is a case of judging a book by its cover. The packets are opaque and you have to guess based on the illustrations. I accidentally bought soup mix a few days ago.
  • There is a staple grain here that I eat a lot. I have no idea what it’s called. I Googled the name on the package (“apashka”) but it’s actually the brand name, and means “granny” in Kazakh but it’s also a dervish term, or something, and the images that accompanied the search were very alarming.
  • It took my room mate and I an afternoon to figure out whether we had bought toilet paper or very boring streamers from the snack store on campus. Turns out it is, indeed, toilet paper. They sell standard toilet paper in stores – in so many colours!


  • I order my drinking water through the reception staff of the building I live in and there’s a big water cooler at work.
  • Bread. BREAD! It’s so good. So cheap. Less than $.50 cheap.
  • Across the board, groceries are cheap. I think I’ve been paying about $30/week here so far.
  • These bulk assorted “fish shapes” make me laugh every time I pass by them.



One thought on “How to Grocery Shop

  1. Hi! I used to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Turkmenistan, and I am here to tell you, oh my gosh, go to your local bazaar. You may find your greens, and things will almost certainly be cheaper.

    Also, last I checked they only fly to Almaty, but consider TurkmenAir for cheap tickets with a stop in Ashgabat to select destinations. Good luck in Astana!

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