Thursday, April 12, 2007

Grocery Experience in Malaysia

As of date, I am quite happy to have received comments and emails from people who have found my blog helpful. It seems Malaysia is attracting expats by the numbers, and quickly becoming like its neighboring country: Singapore.

I have always enjoyed doing grocery shopping, even back in Manila when I was still single. Unimart had the widest variety and good prices. I felt comfortable doing my grocery shopping at a place where I can park right outside, have someone push my cartful of groceries and put it backside my CRV. Well, those were the days when I was in Manila.

In Singapore, I continued on with my favorite past-time. But it wasn't as "smooth" as Manila. No car. No one to bring groceries to the car. No one to bring groceries into the house. Simply, you buy the groceries hoping that you have enough arms & hands to carry it to the taxi queue. And after getting of the cab, you will need to carry all of that to the elevator. Then into the condo. The whole grocery exercise = physical exercise.

One thing to note though is the variety of things you can find in Singapore. Whether it's Carrefour or Cold Storage, they carried a lot of imported stuff which will suit almost every expat. Which made the whole grocery thing enjoyable (yet pricey!).

Well, Malaysia is a totally different story -- with upside and downside. Let me elaborate:

UPSIDE
- the good thing is cars are more affordable than Singapore, so you can actually put groceries in your trunk and drive home (just like the good old days in Manila, minus the push cart service)
- there is a wide variety of grocery stores to choose from: Carrefour, Cold Storage, Tesco, and other smaller (independent) groceries
- prices are cheaper than Singapore, which means more stuff out of your Ringgit
- groceries will actually put the stuff you buy into the plastic bags (some Singapore groceries will leave you to do you own stuffing-into-bags)
- availability of push carts up to your car, without having to deposit coins into the slot (unlike in Singapore, if you want your coin back, better push it back to the proper area)

DOWNSIDE
- after months of living here, I still couldn't figure out where to buy Arborio Rice (to make risotto). I practically went to all the "expat" places already and cannot find any. When I went to Mr. Ho (specialty shop in Bangsar), I was the lucky customer who heard the phrase "we ran out". Oh well, anyone who knows where I can buy Arborio Rice, please point me to the direction.
- variety is not like Singapore. In short Carrefour Malaysia does not mean same stuff I used to find in Carrefour Singapore. Hubby couldn't find the frozen pastry than you can make into pies. No Arborio Rice. No Pokka Apple Juice.

As you can see, the upside will outweight downside -- which is why I am happy to call Malaysia our home =) So to those moving to KL, I am sure grocery shopping will be one of the upside things in your list, especially those moving from Europe! (sigh, talk about my grocery experience in France: lots of great stuff to buy but expensive when I convert to Asian currency + you have to bag your own things).

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One of the first things I asked to my local friends was 'where to buy groceries'. I wanted to learn immediately where is the cheapest place, best deal for this and that, where to go and what to expect. Now, let me share my own personal account of grocery shopping in KL.

To buy basic needs like washing machine soap, fabric conditioner, floor cleaner, liquid dish soap cleaner, bath soap, shampoo, conditioner, toilet paper (and other generic stuff which has brand and consistency in quality) ... you can buy all this at TESCO. That place has the cheapest price (in my investigation!). Parking is free. Lots of people on weekends, so I do my grocery on weekdays. For stuff like Coke-in-cans, cooking oil, baby powder, toothbrush ... you can get it at best price here. It's great to have Tesco near my house (Tesco Mutiara Damansara). Tesco can be a good bargain, but of course it doesn't house the great, great stuff which some expats will be looking for ...

Great stuff like very good meat, very fresh & top quality vegetables, variety of imported olive oil & different type of soy sauce, freshly baked high-quality bread, exotic choices of pasta in different forms & sizes along with imported pasta sauces. Should you be looking for things like that, it is better to go to Cold Storage (many different branches) or Citi Super (in Sri Hartamas Shopping Center). You will find an especially extended variety of imported biscuits and other things in Cold Storage at Bangsar Shopping Center, Citi Super in Sri Hartamas Shopping Center and Cold Storage in KLCC... mostly because those are the places which expats go to.

If you will look closely and compare the prices of basic stuff (like shampoo, soap, etc) from Tesco vs Cold Storage, those items can vary from RM0.50 - RM1.00 per item! So if you buy 50 items (big grocery shopping), you can quickly save almost RM50.00 from shopping at Tesco.

Another choice for very good prices would be Carrefour. I went to Mid-Valley Megamall and their Kepong branch. Mid-valley had more choices, mainly because Kepong is farther away from KLCC. I was able to find our favorite Strawberry syrup (to make a yummy strawbery drink which they always serve as "apperitif" in France). Only Carrefour carries these very French things, so we would sometimes visit. The downside is that Mid-Valley Megamall is super crowded on weekends, hence harder time to do grocery. While Kepong is out of the way (though not that far drive from Damansara Perdana).

I often end up buying the basic stuff at Tesco. Then the "fresh" things at Citi Super / Cold Storage.

Every grocery trip will cost me at least RM150- or more. Unless of course I just drop by to buy one or two things to fill the gap at home (like milk and bread). Overall, based on my estimate, the grocery expenses back home in Manila vs here in Malaysia, the pricing experience is not that far off. Only Singapore and France will go off the charts if I compute against Manila... so for those coming from the Philippines ... fear not! Grocery shopping is quite okay in Malaysia.
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