Oh grocery shopping, how do I love thee, let me count the ways…
Let’s get things straight. Grocery shopping is not the most exciting thing in the world, and shopping in a strange country can be difficult and time consuming.
Here, I hope to bring you news of where you can buy some UK/Irish goodies ‘locally’, or where you can get them delivered to your door. As this topic is quite broad, this is just a taster. I will expand on some of these topics some other time. If all goes well, I may also be able to decipher what some of those strange things in the supermarket are and what to do with them.
Of course, my experience is limited, so if you know of somewhere of interest to expats, send me a mail or tell the world about it in the comments below!
First up, there are internet-based companies that import goodies from the UK to Belgium. One of these is the Internet Grocer, which stocks a wide variety of those little things that you miss. Order by Tuesday evening and the lovely Giles will deliver it on Friday.
Brussels and surroundings-based shops
There are several dedicated expat shops around Brussels that sell Irish and UK store-cupboard foods. Catering for fresh food enthusiasts however, is Jack O’Shea’s butchers on Rue le Titan (corner of Rue Franklin). As well as excellent Irish beef, lamb, pork and chicken, Jack’s also stocks Irish cheeses, home-baked goods, fresh brown bread, Tayto crisps and a wide range of condiments to complement everything they sell. The staff are very friendly and knowledgeable.
Grocery shops and chains are finally copping onto the fact that there are a lot of expats here who like buying food that reminds us of home. The big supermarkets are getting better about stocking ‘foreign’ food and many, particularly in areas with a high expat concentration, now have ‘foreign’ food shelves/aisles. The range of goods is fairly much the same everywhere. On my travels, I’ve spotted English goodies such as Coleman’s mustard, Dorset cereals, Digestive biscuits, Cadbury’s chocolate and the like.
Carrefour (Kraainum and chaussee de Bruxelles, 299 Waterloo for example) seems to have the biggest range, without having to go to a specialist shop. The Carrefour at the Mont St Jean in Waterloo (chaussee de Charleroi, 579) has a dedicated long aisle. The GB in Merode also has a selection, albeit much smaller. The fruit and vegetable selection in this store is the best I’ve seen in this country, with a vast selection of exotic and not so exotic (parsnips anyone?) fresh* produce. You also have the charming experience of having someone weigh your choices.
Of the Delhaize’s I’ve visited, the choice of expat food stuffs is more limited. Saying that, the Delhaize in Braine l’Alleud is the only shop in which I’ve seen halloumi for sale.
Things I’ve never seen for sale
I’ve never seen fresh breadcrumbs for sale, so you will have to make your own or talk nicely to your local baker. Supermarkets do sell boxes of ‘chapelure’ which is balls of some unknown (to me) hard substance, which translates into breadcrumbs. Make your own. I've also never seen bags of frozen sweetcorn in the supermarket.
I’m still on the look-out for a fishmonger that sells fresh fish at an affordable price. And that doesn’t weigh the fish, offer to gut it and then tries to sell it to you for the pre-gutted price.
There are many food markets in Brussels and its environs. You can find a list here (in French).
On a more interesting note, many more UK and Irish high-street shops are now delivering to the continent. The list is ever expanding. Mind the conversion rate, and if possible buy in GBP as (usually) the Euro price is much higher.
* usually it’s quite fresh, and keeps for a few days. As with most supermerkets everywhere, you may be better off shopping little and often.